Barbara Seranella

Miranda "Munch" Mancini - A woman auto mechanic with a past

"Unpaid Dues"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer OCT 21, 2003)

Unpaid Dues by Barbara Seranella
Munch Mancini has a seedy past...this is not news to those who have read the other books in this series. Celebrating her eighth year of sobriety, she remembers that the ninth year is for making amends...and when an old friend "New York Jane" is found murdered, those dues are coming in to be paid right when the very worst parts of her past force themselves to be reckoned with.

Read excerptInvestigating this murder is Munch's old friend Detective Mace St. John. Slowly, reluctantly she gives him...and us...pieces of the puzzle. She tells us about the times when, addicted to drugs and alcohol and using her body to get the money to feed these addictions (one particularly sad memory is when her own father takes her to a flat where a bunch of Mexican men live, and pay for her to service them...and still sadder yet is that some of them reject her.) She and Jane ran around with two men: Thor, Jane's psychotically abusive husband, and Sleaze John, the handsome loser who was Munch's lover. Their attraction would bring them together several times. She's recently adopted his eight-year-old daughter, Asia, a blessing Munch sees as giving her life the stability and love she needs to keep steady. Also, there's another character from her past, Boogie -- now an all-grown-up-too-soon-teenager named Nathan -- threaded through the story. He's another way she's trying to make amends; not proud of the way she and his mother acted around him when he was a baby. When he appears on her doorstep, she's happy to give him help this case, a room and a cheap car until he gets a decent job.

Munch Mancini is a character to admire. Terrible things have happened to her and she herself has been awful. She's brave in a different kind of way; she's trying not to mess up again. She knows how tentative things are, and so she clings to the good things...her unusual job as an auto mechanic, where she has a great work relationship with the owner, her beautiful adopted daughter, and even, her not-really-stable relationship with a detective named Rico Chacón. That relationship may get rockier though ...he's investigating a certain triple unsolved homicide that Munch knows too much about.

I really enjoyed this mystery for many reasons. Munch is fascinating and likable; she goes through life with a courage and decency that is all the more satisfying to see because of her past. And the mystery is done very well. We're given an eyewitness narrative along with the clues, which gives us an inside seat, where we are in the position of knowing much more than any of the characters. This is unusual because if you ever get this type of narration it's usually from the point of view of the bad guy. The fact it's from someone you like, a tough girl at that, makes it feel more important or special.

Sometimes dues can never be repaid. Sometimes they demand some horrible consequences. Watching Munch face these things make this a riveting story -- and series.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Unpaid Dues at

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Bibliography: (with links to

Munch Mancini Novels:

Charlotte Lyon Novels:


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About the Author:

Barbara SeranellaBarbara Seranella was born in Santa Monica and grew up in Pacific Palisades. After running away from home at fourteen, joining a hippie commune in the Haight, and riding with outlaw motorcycle clubs, she decided to do something normal, so she became a mechanic. She worked at an Arco station in Sherman Oaks for five years and then a Texaco station in Brentwood for another twelve. At the Texaco station, she rose to the rank of service manager and then married her boss. Figuring she had taken her automotive career as far as it was going to carry her, she retired in 1993 to pursue the writing life. She and her husband, Ron, and their dogs divide their time between Laguna Beach and La Quinta, California. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014