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Maggody and the Moonbeams: An Arly Hanks Mystery    by Joan Hess order for
Maggody and the Moonbeams
by Joan Hess
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2001 (2001)

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* *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

Maggody, Arkansas, population 755, has been enjoying a slow, lazy spring. Although plagued in the past by bizarre events from time to time, at last Maggody appears to be becoming the safe haven that Chief of Police Arly had envisioned when she came back home from New York City. However, fate in the form of Mrs. Jim Bob Buchanon takes a hand: if mayhem won't come to Maggody, then Maggody must be brought to mayhem.

Mrs. Jim Bob's church youth group is headed to Camp Pearly Gates, but lacks a chaperone for the girls. As luck would have it, Arly is free to help out, courtesy of a special week's vacation approved by the city council on Mrs. Jim Bob's behalf. Arly is not overjoyed at the prospect of riding herd on a bunch of rowdy, randy teens, but what could possibly happen in the out of the way campsite?

Plenty, it appears. As Arly quotes, 'Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.'

So begins the latest adventure involving Maggody, the mythical embodiment of all things Southern. All our old favorites are here, including the carnal pastor Jim Verber, the sanctimonious and sarcastic church leader Mrs. Jim Bob, Arly's mom Ruby Bee, whose life is without meaning unless she's rustling up some food, and Estelle, Ruby's beautician friend.

Not long after settling in, one of the teens discovers a body, which happens to belong to the Moonbeams, a strange religious cult whose all female members shave their heads. The local police, in the person of Corporal Robarts, who had hair 'slicked back with what may well have been bacon grease', is inept, so Arly has to take on the investigation. It's a tough job, but bolstered by hamburgers from the Welcome Y'all Cafe and lots of fried goodies from Ruby Bee, who has decided to come stay with the camping group, she is sure to meet the challenge. Using her usual motivating techniques as when she urges the sheriff's secretary to accept her collect call, or 'spend the remainder of her life being stalked by whatever sexual deviants I could recruit from the state prison' like, for instance, 'Siffalus Buchanon, the guy with the glass eye and fondness for barbed wire', Arly soon collects all the information she needs.

The Maggody tales are always enjoyable romps through country silliness, but for some reason, Maggody and the Moonbeams is a trifle flat when compared to others in the series. The descriptives, couched in Southernized dialect, weren't quite as funny as usual, and the jumping back and forth from the campsite to the people in Maggody seemed solely contrived for the sake of a possible upcoming book, as it didn't have anything to do with the story at hand. Also, there were a lot more expletives than Ms. Hess normally uses, due probably to the increased presence of teenagers in this book, but it was still a trifle jarring. However, the story is amusing, and the satire of cults is well-done; a decent few afternoons' read.

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