Crazy Fool Kills Five, the second installment in the Fifi Cutter mystery series, features sarcastic L.A.-local Fifi Cutter as an independent insurance adjuster who takes a temp position for the law offices of Wong, Wu & Chu to assist with data collection for their sixty million dollar wrongful death lawsuit against Skyblu Charter Jet Service. She is accompanied by her free-loading wacky brother Bosco, her power-career best friend VJ, and several other unusual characters along the way during her adventures.
The lawsuit around which the book is focused is described in the words of the main character, Fifi Cutter, as:
One of those inexplicable murder-suicides. Don’t these dumb f*%ks ever think how awkward it’s going to be when they arrive at the Pearly Gates at the exact same time as the fifteen other people they just killed? With all these folks standing right there, how do they think they’re gonna talk their way in?
While the Buffy-like Los Angeles specific humor was at times entertaining (at least for this former L.A. native), and the hi-jinx situations in which Fifi often found herself elicited numerous grins, unfortunately the underlying mystery itself was a bit weak.
My biggest criticism is that the dramatic cross-cultural array of character descriptions seemed unrealistic. The author herself, Gwen Freeman, appears in her author bio photograph to be a blond-haired Caucasian woman. Her main character, Fifi Cutter, is African-American, and I am a bit skeptical when authors choose to write about a character outside of their own personal frame of reference. I am aware that there are many authors who have crossed the gender divide to write about characters of different genders, so perhaps Freeman is simply one of the first on a new horizon, blurring the distinction between cross-cultural fiction.
I think it goes beyond that though. Race and ethnicity were repeatedly used as the sole definition for many characters. A litany of major and lesser characters were paraded throughout the book, hailing from a multitude of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Race and culture seemed to be an obsessively important part of the characters’ traits to the point where sometimes there was nothing else except race or ethnicity to describe them. Every time Fifi turned on the TV or passed someone on the street, I awaited the few words that would describe the people she saw as “the young Burmese couple,” “the Nicaraguan nanny,” or “a kindly looking Salvadoran man.”
California certainly boasts a very diverse population, so it was not in contrast to the setting to have a multiculutral community of characters for the story. They simply became somewhat two-dimensional since no other aspects of character besides ethnicity were developed, in many cases. Many of the characters were like flat paper dolls on the page. The reader is able to imagine the color of their skin, but little else. This was not true of all the characters though. Freeman certainly invested more in developing the few main characters in the story, in an attempt to make them more human.
Freeman’s strength lies in her use of humor and the relaxed pacing used in her writing. The story moves along easily, flowing from one scene to the next seamlessly, despite the unexpected situations that arise. Several of the main characters were funny and interesting, particularly Fifi’s half-brother Bosco, who devises a fictional career for himself as an upcoming artist to impress his latest girlfriend. As an attorney herself, Freeman was able to create believable court scenes appropriate to the story.