Last Diner Standing by Terri Austin
Publisher: Henery Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (294 pgs)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by: Camellia
Rose Strickland is having a blue Christmas. Her friend is arrested for attempted murder, her sexy bad guy crush is marked by a hit man, and her boss is locked in an epic smackdown with a rival diner. Determined to save those she loves, Rose embarks on an investigation more tangled than a box of last year's tree lights. With her eclectic gang at the ready, Rose stumbles across dead bodies, ex-cons, chop shops, jealous girlfriends, jilted lovers, and a gaggle of strippers in a battle for freedom she might not survive.
Not having read the first book of the series, I suffered a tad of culture shock. Terri Austin’s “oh-so-real” descriptions of The Bottom Dollar strip club, Axton’s house, Penn’s Cigar Bar, and a few other places along with the R-rated language plopped me right down into a unique environment and into a mystery that had so many suspects they needed to take a number. Last Diner Standing is crammed full of complex characters with clandestine actions running amok.
Rose Strickland, who hasn’t earned a bachelor’s degree in six years of college, juggles her many lives as she tries to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. Her family’s high society life that she must be a part of at times always gets short changed. Her waitress job she does pretty much on auto-pilot and full speed ahead because she needs the money and feels an unshakeable loyalty to Ma, the owner of the diner who gave her a job when she didn’t know how to do anything. Her detective work that she races about doing takes her into the company of criminals, cheats, dope-addicts, strippers, not-so-clean cops, and lots of ne’er-do-wells. Amidst all these she is also a peacemaker and a loyal friend that sees beyond human flaws and failing to help unstintingly when help is needed.
The secondary characters are a mottled lot in this entertaining story. Ms. Austin’s great descriptions of them bring out a unique type of humor and unusual outlooks on life and the conventional rules of society.
Roxy, Rose’s co-worker and bestie, with her blue hair and attention-getting attire, not to mention her lock-picking skills, has her own agenda but never fails to go help Rose when needed. Dane Harker, the lawyer; Sullivan, entrepreneur aka criminal; and Axton Graystone, Rose’s unfailing friend of many years who is also a dropout from high society, are all ever willingly to come to Rose’s aid when the chips are down and things get in a bind.
Janelle, in danger of going to prison for something she didn’t do, is Rose’s friend from college and is in desperate need of help since the cops consider her guilty and are doing nothing about searching for the true culprit.
Rose figures she has sold her soul to help Janelle but declares she will worry about that later. She will do all she can to help so Janelle can stay with her two children.
In this story, told in first-person, the reader is swept into a vicarious experience that includes visits to a strip club with graphic descriptions of the action; visits to Axton’s unique home where he keeps special brownies baked for his friend, Stoner, who lives with him and where he gives sanctuary to Rose’s friends who are in harm’s way—BIG time; and visits to Ma Ferguson’s diner during a time when Ma wages war against her competitor Rudy that she feels is horning in on her territory.
Last Diner Standing is an adventure in reading I might have missed if I had not branched out from the type stories I usually read. It is a story I will not soon forget. Although the language and the some of the actions are crude, they seem to fit in with the characters and the environment they function in. The characters’ loyalty, humor, and non-judgmental attitudes create resonating themes throughout this mystery. I really did get a surprise about who the “bad person” turned out to be. How Rose saves the day is fantastic—woven in so subtle and natural.
Last Diner Standing is a memorable story that I stayed up late to finish because Ms. Austin kept me totally in the story from start to finish.