Who can resist a title like Mad Men, Bad Girls and The Guerilla Knitters Institute, it promises a fun, quirky story with a little intrigue and danger which is exactly what it delivers. This fiction debut novel by Australian author Maggie Groff is quite the departure from her non fiction titles dealing with motherhood (Mothers Behaving Badly) and cooking (Hoax Cuisine) though Groff's irreverent sense of humor remains intact. A freelance investigative journalist, Groff's protagonist, Scout Davis, is asked to look into the establishment of a secretive American cult on the Gold Coast. A cursory study reveals some bizarre practices but when she discovers her daughters childhood friend has deserted her young family and joined them, it becomes personal and Scout is determined to expose their corrupt lifestyle. In amongst investigating the members of The Luminous Renaissance of Illustrious Light, Scout is helping her sister solve a nasty incident at the exclusive private school where she works, wondering who filled her car with weed, knitting frantically and avoiding Detective Rafe Kelly's knowing gaze. Scout flirts with danger, disaster and romance in this entertaining contemporary mystery.
Set against the backdrops of Byron Bay and the Gold Coast, the laugh out loud humour of Mad Men, Bad Girls and The Guerilla Knitters Institute is paired with a more serious exploration of issues such as bullying, corrupt spiritualism and post natal depression. It's a strong combination that makes for an interesting and entertaining plot. Scout's investigation into the cult of Bacchus Rising is the central plot, it leads her to contact first with the family of an American member and then the mother of an Australian victim whom she was once acquaintance with. As with many cults, the messages of peace, love and harmony hides a sexual and financial predator who preys on the weak minded and ruthlessly protects his ego driven empire. Scout finds herself vulnerable when she infiltrates the group as an interested wannabe disciple and her cover is blown.
Groff deepens the plot with smaller mysteries including a runaway child, a suicide attempt and a teacher accused of inappropriate behaviour at an exclusive high school where Scout's sister, Harper, works.
On a lighter note, Scout's yarn bombing group, which includes a doctor and lawyer and in which she involves her nephew, is a fun sub plot as is the steamy relationship between Scout and Rafe. Scout is half heartedly involved with a fellow journalist who spends more time overseas in war zones than in Australia. Rafe is a temptation she finds difficult to ignore and throughout the novel the pair smoulder in each others company.
I really like Scout, she is smart, clever, loyal and fun (and yes her parents were fans of To Kill A Mockingbird). In her early forties, Scout is older than the usual heroine in this genre and its something I appreciate being of a similar age. She is also an insulin dependent diabetic which is something Groff makes a point of mentioning regularly through the story. Scout has to monitor her blood sugars, eat regularly and be prepared for a hypoglycemic emergency. I felt as if it was perhaps mentioned too often, but on the other hand diabetes can be an intrusive disease and Groff raises awareness of that.
With a strong plot, witty dialogue and likeable characters, Mad Men, Bad Girls and The Guerilla Knitters Institute is a wonderfully entertaining read. Apparently Groff has plans for a series featuring Scout Davis and I am looking forward to the second, so make sure you pick this up!