November 03, 2020

The Man in the Microwave Oven

By Susan Cox
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San Francisco’s Fabian Gardens is a funky, desirable neighborhood at the heart of Susan Cox’s second Theophonia Bogart mystery, The Man in the Microwave Oven. People of all demographics inhabit its low-rise buildings and enjoy the private park through which the life of the neighborhood flows. Dog walks, gardening get-togethers, friendly chats and pointed arguments all take place on the benches, along the pathways and amid the flowers.

Lately, neighborhood gossip’s focused on one thing: a developer’s mission to put a high-rise in their quirky neighborhood, an endeavor championed by local resident Katrina Dermody. Katrina isn’t well-liked, to say the least. She’s a brash, rude lawyer, prone to fits of rage and unrepentant blackmail attempts. When she’s murdered, no one is really surprised—not even Theo, who discovers Katrina’s battered and bloody body.

Alas, this isn’t even the worst thing that’s happened since Theo moved to Fabian Gardens a year ago, as per Cox’s The Man on the Washing Machine (2015) with its murders and other felonies. Although Theo and her cohorts found relative peace after those wild goings-on, she’s still feeling immense stress because of her big secret. She fled her native England after a family tragedy that drew relentless paparazzi attention and has been keeping her identity secret from her neighbors, friends and boyfriend ever since.

Katrina’s murder adds a new urgency. She threatened blackmail just before her death, and Theo wants to know exactly what Katrina (and the murderer) might’ve learned about her. A former paparazzo herself, Theo uses her skills to solve the mystery, which becomes exponentially more complex when she learns her grandfather is a former spy and a viable murder suspect.

Cox keeps the story moving breathlessly along, mixing suspense and humor with a dash of fascinating old-school spycraft as Theo strives to unearth the truth about what’s happening in her own backyard . . . and her friend’s microwave (Warning: it’s gruesome!). The Man in the Microwave Oven is an entertaining, often outright funny mystery that winningly combines traditional and modern methods of crime-solving, ponders whether it’s ever acceptable to lie and warmly conveys the value of friendship and family even as dead bodies turn up all over town.

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