Teeny Templeton is a short, asthmatic, frizzy-haired blonde with a gap between her front teeth and an aversion to liars. She also has a knack for stumbling headlong into trouble. By the end of author Michael Lee West’s last novel, Gone with a Handsomer Man, Teeny had finally managed to clear herself of the murder of her fiancé, winning a handsome lawyer boyfriend, Coop O’Malley (whose “hair curled around his neck like chocolate shavings”), and an historic home on Charleston’s “Rainbow Row” in the process. By the end of the first chapter of West’s newest novel, A Teeny Bit of Trouble, Teeny has witnessed another murder and is once again implicated in the crime. A lifelong cook from a family of lifelong cooks, Teeny de-stresses by dreaming up new recipes, but will Anything-You-Say-Can-Be-Used-Against-You Quiche or You-Have-The-Right-to-Remain-Silent Salsa save her this time?
When Coop’s high-school girlfriend Barb Browning Philpot announces that he may be the father of her mean-spirited, foul-mouthed, McDonald’s-loving ten-year-old daughter Emerson, everyone is shocked—most of all Emerson’s father, Lester Philpot. Lester is the owner of Philpot Pharmacy in nearby Bonaventure, Georgia, where Teeny and Coop grew up. Her faith in her man shaken, Teeny decides to investigate by lurking outside Barb’s beach house in a black scuba suit and a Braves baseball cap. That’s how she happens to witness Barb’s attack by an unknown man in a Bill Clinton mask. Before she can alert the police, Barb’s body disappears, and Teeny and Coop find themselves caring for a hostile Emerson. Gradually, Teeny—who was herself abandoned at the Bonaventure Dairy Queen when she was eight years old—begins to see herself in Emerson, a troubled child whom no one seems to want. So Teeny, Coop, Emerson, and Coop’s friend and private investigator Red Butler Hill, whose “broad nose lay across his face like a catfish fillet,” travel to Bonaventure to get to the bottom of Barb’s disappearance and to sort out Emerson’s parentage.
Once they all arrive in Bonaventure, the plot thickens up quicker than a pot of pudding on the stove. Thank goodness Teeny has a few allies by her side, notably her trusty English bulldog, Sir; Nurse Dot, who treats Teeny to an “emergency beauty intervention” at the Tartan Hair Pub; and Coop’s grandmother Miss Minnie, a brash, profane free spirit who takes an instant shine to her. On the other hand, not even Teeny’s I’ll-Make-You-Like-Me Fruit Salad is going to soften up Coop’s venomous mother Irene, whose voice “held the perfect blend of Southern manners and fangs.”
Who is Emerson’s real father? And what about the man in the Bill Clinton mask? Was Barb murdered? Why are otherwise healthy patients dying in the Bonaventure hospital? Teeny will get to the bottom of these and other questions in her typical awkward fashion, but not before wishing she’d baked up a batch of Keep-Your-Big-Mouth-Shut Scones topped with I-Learned-My-Lesson Lemon Curd.
Michael Lee West will read from and discuss A Teeny Bit of Trouble at Union Ave. Books in Knoxville on May 5 at 6 p.m.