Hot Air, the sequel to Charlie Suisman’s excellent Arnold Falls, furthers the adventures of the eccentric residents of his fictional town.
Protagonist (and part-time narrator) Jeebie is now happily dating Will, but is preoccupied with finding purpose. After a quasi-spiritual encounter with a cow named Minna, he offers to help found an animal sanctuary, and after an encounter with children in a cancer ward, he uncovers corruption at the local hospital.
Meanwhile Jenny, the new mayor, is trying to strike a balance between development and conservation when a rash of strange thefts breaks out across town. And things get weirder when the town becomes a film location for Merryvale, the popular series based on a fictional version of Arnold Falls itself.
Hot Air introduces new characters, like Fayette, the eccentric star of Merryvale who befriends Bridget (the comically quirky kleptomaniac from the previous book), and Marvin the Hobo, Arnold Falls’ laconic and mysterious new hermit. There are also numerous returning characters, including Nelle (Jeebie’s elegantly charming bestie), Bender (beloved records shop owner and Jenny’s possible love interest), and Ash (Will’s ex-flame FBI agent). All reprise their roles in entertaining new ways.
Suisman’s smart, snappy dialogue remains on point, and every character retains their easy likability as the story reprises Arnold Falls’ trademark cozy comedy/lightweight mystery format. Hot Air, however, doesn’t benefit from the multitude of “will they or won’t they?” romantic escapades, delivering just one romantic subplot.
There’s a principle of diminishing returns at work, with Hot Air losing a smidgen of the original magic. Arnold Falls remains a welcoming place to escape to, but the events feel a little too contrived this time and the story a little slow to take shape.
If Hot Air falters, however, it’s partly because it begs comparison to its over-performing forbear. Judged on its own merits, it’s still a fun excursion, and whether it’s a reader’s first trip to Arnold Falls or second, they’ll likely treasure the visit.
Also available as an ebook.