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In Relative Stranger, Starr Spenser returns home to Portico Ferry, Missouri, after being cast off by her Las Vegas lover, Alana. Starr is fed up with the hijinks of her father, a man who thinks robbing a bank to pay off a mob debt is perfectly acceptable behavior. Starr strikes out for her childhood home. When she arrives at the bed & breakfast owned by her father’s ex-wife, Letisha, she finds that Letisha’s mental capacity is somewhat questionable. Her memory seems diminished and her loyal housekeeper is deeply concerned. To make matters worse, Leitisha is dating a cad of a man at best and a scam artist who has designs on her money at worst. His ill feelings for Starr are evident every time he speaks to her, but Starr holds her tongue as she tries to figure out the situation. If that were the only problem Starr had to contend with, it would be a cakewalk, but that’s far from the only issue she’s got to plow through upon arrival in town.
When Starr’s ex-girlfriend, Alana, turns up in Portico Ferry in the company of Starr’s father, things get a little crazy. Her father is on the lam from the mob for botching a heist to pay back his debt. Because her former girlfriend was a witness to the crime, the mob has put out a contract on her to keep her quiet. In what seems like an uncharacteristic protective turn, Starr’s father has taken Alana under his wing and brought her to the only place he feels might be safe for both of them.
As if all this wasn’t enough on Starr’s plate, she also finds that the young middle-Eastern American woman, Firah, the one whose Iranian family wants to marry her off in an arranged marriage, the one that Starr grew up knowing was straight, but has always had a crush on anyway, now has feelings for Starr that complicates things all the more and confuses the heck out of her. With Firah conflicted about her own sexuality, steeped in her family’s Iranian philosophy and their nouveau-Christian dogma, but hornier than all get-out, Starr must navigate new territory in her relationship to her childhood friend—and it’s not all that easy, especially with Alana hovering around.
Chaos abounds as a character is murdered, Letisha’s just not herself and becomes a person of interest in the investigation, Starr’s father is running amok, then Firah’s family is attacked. All the while, Starr is frantically running around trying to patch holes in some very leaky dikes (no pun intended).
Relative Stranger is a multifaceted story filled with bedlam that, at times, seems almost Keystone Cop-ish, but it all works to support the story. Williams skillfully weaves together the premise that family is greater than the sum of the blood flowing through their veins. Starr is an endearing personality, the middle-Eastern family is seriously at odds within and among themselves, and Letisha’s unconditional love for Starr is obvious. Most of the minor characters are loyal to one another and their interactions support the theme of the story. All this, together with the other details threaded throughout this tale, makes for reading that conjures up a dimension of giddiness in spite of all the mayhem and adversity swirling around the characters as they move through this out-of-control roller coaster plot. This is a delightful telling of a madcap tale that will entertain and amuse—with an added dose of reality in the form of ethnic awareness and familial loyalty, and a little love thrown in for good measure.
By Barbara Treat Williams
Paperback, 9781935226574, 212 pp.