Title: Against My Better Judgment
Author: B.T. Polcari
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Young Adult Mystery, New Adult Mystery
When freshman year at the University of Alabama draws to a close, Sara Donovan finds herself grappling with the same old question—listen to her head or follow her heart. What she ends up doing is purchasing an Egyptian souvenir funerary mask, and after a mysterious phone call, she's certain a ring of antiquities smugglers are operating in Tuscaloosa. With finals never far from her mind and her return to 'Bama hanging in the balance, she should be studying. Instead she launches her own investigation to prove her mask is indeed a stolen artifact, and not a cheap trinket. When it comes time to snoop, Sara is more than ready, or at least she was until a hot new teaching assistant moves in next door. Suddenly she learns things are never as they seem. Ever.
Mauzzy jumped off his chair and met me at the couch. We both sat on an end cushion, and I placed the disfigured souvenir on the middle one. He scrutinized what was left of the face, hazel eyes studying it from multiple angles. After a few sniffs, he licked around a small hole melted in it. With a frown, he flicked the mask over with his pointy nose, clearly disgusted with the bourgeois taste of acetone and plastic. Then he—
I snapped it away. “It’s not a chew toy.”
He snorted, sneezed on my bare leg, and retreated to his recliner.
With another snort, he pivoted and laid down, his fat butt facing me.
“Way to use your words, Mauz.”
I assessed the damage. The ears were blobs of gray, the nose was gone, and in the center of the red smirk was a hole smaller than a dime and a quarter-inch deep. I activated my phone’s flashlight and studied the tiny hole. The surface beneath appeared to be metallic. Maybe brass. Or…
I tapped the flashlight off and called Zoe, my best friend. She lived near me in Annapolis for five years before her family moved back to Tuscaloosa after our junior year in high school.
“You gotta get over here and see this.”
She sighed. “I’m studying, which is what you should be doing. What’d you burn this time?”
“Dishwasher issues again?”
I huffed. “They shouldn’t say dishwasher safe if it isn’t. That’s false advertising.”
“How many times I gotta tell you? That’s what the top rack is for. What melted?”
“A souvenir from the gift shop. You gotta—”
“You put it in the dishwasher?”
“Why would I do that?”
“How do I know? I’m not Sara Donovan. Why are you calling me?”
I slipped over to the front door and peered out the side window. “I don’t think it’s a souvenir. I think it’s gold or something.”
She chuckled. “That’s hard to believe. Unless you’re Sara Donovan.”
It appeared all quiet. For once. I backed away from the door and retraced my steps toward the living room. “I’m serious. I think I have something.”
“I really need to study. Finals are just around the corner.”
That girl always worried about upcoming tests. Finals weren’t for three weeks. That meant we had two weeks before cramming started.
“Just please come over and look at this thing?”
Zoe exhaled into the phone.
“I had a strange phone call, too. I think it’s tied to this mask.”
“Every call with you is—”
Another exhale. “Fine. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. But this shit better be good, and not another one of your effed-up theories.”
I set the phone down and glanced at the King Tut wall clock across the room. Nine-fifteen. “Mauzzy, let’s go—”
My pouting roomie spun, launched himself off the chair, and shot to the front door before I could even stand.
“—outside before Zoe gets here.”
I got him leashed up, and we stepped out onto the small wooden deck that served as the front porch and gateway to all that I call Sketchville. The housing complex “boasted” a decent pool that only sometimes closed because of broken bottles in the water. And after a while, police sirens and gunshots just became another form of white noise. Our robust perimeter security consisted of a rusted three-foot chain-link fence with an interwoven hedge of weeds running behind the last row of cottages. Somehow, it remained standing no matter how far the thing listed against the lone oak sapling dying behind my cottage. I suspect the weeds had a helping hand in keeping the fence halfway upright. It was the only thing separating my place from what I’m sure were crack houses on the other side. Like I said. Sketch.
An uncomfortable stillness filled the air. No sirens. No subsonic woofers bouncing cottages off their foundations. Not even a single gunshot. My right hand instinctively tightened on the pepper spray key chain and leash, keeping my phone at the ready in the left.
A slight breeze wandered through the muted parking lot. The nearby dumpster announced its disgusting presence with a pungent stink that made my kitchen, melted plastic and all, smell lemony fresh. We meandered around the edge of the parking lot toward the complex’s grass clearing, reluctantly closer to an overwhelming bouquet of rotting fish. Despite my maternal coaxing, Mauzzy stood firm and refused to pee.
I sighed and gave him my very best “Really?” look. He stared back, unblinking, smugness splashed across his needle-nosed face.
“Dude, we’re not going in until you do it.”
The little guy called my bluff. He faced away from me and sat.
Obviously, I needed to work on my authoritarian voice. And my fierce look. “All right, mister, but this is it for the night.” I gave the leash a good tug. “Let’s go.”
He popped up and with nose in the air trotted along the upper sidewalk toward the walk leading to my cottage. When we got to the front steps, tires grinding asphalt and a squealing fan belt sounded behind us. While we waited on the deck, Mauzzy looked away the entire time. Whatever.
Petite little Zoe bounded up the sidewalk, green eyes shimmering and pink streaks in her black tousled hair gleamed as they caught the moonlight. We were best friends and complete opposites. I stood just over five-eleven. She might have been five feet. I had curves. She was beyond wee and wiry. I tended to be polite to a fault. She was flat out feisty.
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
When I set out to write Against My Better Judgment, it was important for me to create a protagonist that my own daughter can relate to; someone who learns to embrace their flaws and to trust their intuition. If the regular cozy mystery lead is a person who politely eats popcorn a few pieces at a time, then Sara Donovan is all of us who shove handfuls of popcorn into our mouths when no one is watching. She is a little overweight, claims her messy apartment has a "system", acts on an incredibly overactive imagination, and goes through cell phones more frequently than system updates. Against My Better Judgment is what I would consider a must read specifically for those who want to take life a little less seriously, but also want a well-researched mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.
I think Diane Donovan, Senior Editor with the Midwest Book Review, explains it best:
"Readers who enjoy mystery, comedy, and romance will relish the special blend created by B.T. Polcari. Sara's feisty manner and fun view of life keeps her stubborn, yet she also harbors an ability to rethink, recreate, and reformulate her plans of attack. These approaches keep readers on their toes as she consults her family, dog, and friends and revises her game plans accordingly."
And if all of that still isn't enough to convince you why this is a "must-read", then read it for the same reason why Sara goes to the gym - ROTC boys.