From the Escapist Thriller Standpoint, 'Hot, Shot and Bothered' Has a Lot Going for It

'Smart and tough' Lilly Hawkins well may be; unfortunately -- as in all stories in the Quirky, Neurotic Singleton genre from which this one borrows heavily -- all of this is more or less keyed into how long the reader can tolerate a character’s self-absorption.

Hot, Shot and Bothered: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery

Publisher: Touchstone
Price: $14.99
Author: Norah McFarland
Length: 304 pages
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2011-08
Amazon image link

Just for the record, this review is entered upon in a spirit of iconoclastic journalistic integrity, and therefore without reading one word of the the Book Club Reader’s Guide at the back of the book. So there, publishers!

Quite seriously, it’s a bit much to ask from readers. 'Smart and tough' as per the blurbs Lilly Hawkins may be, but not in a way that's going to leave people intensely invested in her life choices.

From the escapist thriller standpoint, though, Hot, Shot and Bothered has a lot going for it. Lilly Hawkins, our heroine, is a ‘shooter’ – basically, a mobile cameraperson – for a small California TV station. All of which should (and, given that this is book two of the series with a third previewed in the back, evidently did) catch the mystery–lover’s interest immediately.

Lilly’s profession – which was, unsurprisingly, also author McFarland’s at one time -- is both fascinating in itself, and remarkably useful in terms of finding corpses. Most of the current investigation takes place in and around a live breaking news scene, and the atmosphere is flawlessly authentic. McFarland does an excellent job just of keeping the details straight, let alone weaving them into a coherent mystery thriller.

Lilly herself is much less organized, albeit her creator does have a clear vision for the character… just a trifle too clear, perhaps. Lilly comes across as something akin to a media savant, instinctively tuned into Getting The Story but completely tone-deaf to actual human interaction. Which is in turn all meant to be charmingly self-deprecating, as she discovers that real life rarely plays out according to the script.

And it's funny, in spots, and even charming, sort of… unfortunately -- as in all stories in the Quirky, Neurotic Singleton genre from which this one borrows heavily -- all of this is more or less keyed into how long the reader can tolerate a character’s self-absorption.

This is at its most obvious when you consider that the body is discovered while a wildfire rages all around the lake, thousands of human and animal lives are in danger, and not only Lilly’s but her boyfriend’s career – and, as things progress, very possibly their lives -- are on the line. It would help if in the middle of all this Our Heroine’s motivation for pursuing the death of one person had substantially more -- not meaning exactly, but depth, is all I’m saying (all I can say, without giving too much away). At least, it would make the book club discussions a bit livelier.

The case involves a body pulled out of a lake that turns out to be a major player in Lilly’s past, a principled, well-meaning teenage friend that Lilly rapidly becomes obsessed with proving wasn’t the drunken party girl everyone’s assuming she became. This, again, is fine as far as it goes; you couldn’t ask for a more deliciously pitfall-laden investigation for our socially clueless heroine. Again, McFarland’s ear for a human dilemma is as sound as her plot mechanics. Not particularly original in either case, but solid and well-chosen.

The trouble is, her skill at carrying all that potential through isn’t, yet. At least, I’m assuming there’s a ‘yet’. There’s a lengthy interview with the author at the back of the book too, but it’s not particularly helpful in this regard. It may simply be that Hot, Shot and Bothered is McFarland’s idea of the pinnacle of human drama… but lord, I hope not. She’s got too much going for her.

So it’s a bit frustrating to find that there’s an awkwardness about not only Lilly’s but all the characters’ interactions, as if the author is self-consciously constructing them according to a template – the combination of stock ‘trendy’ elements in the characterizations and earnestness in the execution strongly suggests the heroine of a TV crime drama -- rather than exercising her imagination as to what people would actually do in the situations she describes.

Despite occasional, welcome flashes of authorial self-awareness on this score, her character is not exactly this reviewer’s idea of someone I’d love to spend time with over the course of several books. Of course, I am also aware that I’m addressing a universe in which Confessions of a Shopaholic is not only a smash hit book series but an A-list movie, so you may want to take all of the above with a grain of salt.

I would however just point out that it’s a likeability/annoyance balance that’s especially hard to strike in a thriller setting, wherein Quirky Clueless Girl’s neuroses actually enable moral superiority over the poor saps she’s questioning. The hell with their imperfections and hesitations and stuff! Don’t they want to see justice done for poor Jessica?

Meanwhile, back at base, the template requires that Quirky Girl has a circle of amusedly tolerant friends, plus a gruff boss who in his heart of gold really just wants what’s best for her. Check. (Admittedly, when following decades’ worth of media clichés there’s not much you can do with a newsroom setting). Also a solid, loving man, who would ordinarily be way out of her league, but instead is inexplicably stuck by her side patiently waiting for her to figure it all out. Check.

Hence, Rod. A tall-blond-and-handsome, impeccably-dressed ex-star reporter for a big LA station, who gave it all up because he’s a closet… um, nerd. Seriously, not leaving much out here. OK, maybe the stage-fright, but if I've got this correctly (not having read book one) the basic idea behind that is that he was totally stressed out by having to maintain a professional facade, ie. pretend not to care about superhero comics.

It is nice to see one of these relationships based on passing the clueless ball back and forth, rather than the man constantly rescuing the woman from it. But as a standalone character, Rod is the culmination of all the book's problems: equal parts wish-fulfillment and awkward stereotypes. Including the particularly irritating two-parter that holds a) all geeks are automatically interested in all aspects of the media universe and conversely b) the author's readership isn't aware of any. So that the former is trying to score nerd cred by referencing such esoteric concepts as Joss Whedon making a Wonder Woman film. (A couple interns obviously patterned after Bill & Ted get off a bit more lightly, but still aren’t helping the cause any.)

So Rod has a chance to make it back to the big-time with this wildfire story (despite – in one of the threads of real humour – inadvertently convincing the Governor that he’s an alcoholic), and this means Lilly must bravely face having her own world rocked (on account of possibly having to move to big noisy scary LA, because apparently the idea of ‘suburbs’ is as exotic as ‘comics’ in this universe), and Lilly’s friends are supportively trying to help her overcome her fears…

...and somewhere in the midst of all this there’s a drowned woman, who grew and changed and maybe made bad choices. Someday soon, I hope McFarland can figure out how to shift the focus back to the parts that really matter.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.