What’s so funny about trying to catch tax cheats? The best way to find out is by reading Diane Kelly’s new novel, DEATH, TAXES, AND A FRENCH MANICURE. You’ll also learn what’s exciting about tax cases, thanks to a cool new character named Tara Holloway.
Tara is a CPA who is also a newly-hired special agent for the Treasury Department’s Criminal Investigations Division. Good fiction is driven by good characters and, as her creator explains, Tara Holloway is a lady you’ll be happy to meet.
“Tara is smart and spunky, with a strong sense of justice,” Kelly says. “If you met her at a cocktail party, you’d be intrigued. She’s pretty and petite, but looks can be deceiving. Underneath the benign exterior is a tough-as-nails federal agent with the marksman skills of Annie Oakley.”
DEATH, TAXES, AND A FRENCH MANICURE tells the story of Tara’s first undercover mission. She’s assigned to take down an ice cream vendor who is also selling drugs to his young customers. Naturally he isn’t reporting the income from his illegal enterprise and that’s how our treasury agent gets involved. There’s also a secondary plot involving an investment scam. A CPA and tax attorney herself, Kelly is able to pull that story line from personal experience.
“Years ago I worked as an assistant attorney general for the state of Texas,” Kelly says. “The AG I worked under was later convicted of diverting settlement funds from the tobacco company lawsuits to his buddies’ law firms. I then went to work for an international accounting firm. One of the partners I worked with was subsequently convicted of tax shelter fraud.”
It seems only natural with those experiences on her resume that Kelly would come up with a character whose mission is to collar the creeps committing financial crimes. Yet years passed before she cooked up Tara Holloway. She says the idea popped into her head during a tax seminar when a criminal defense attorney took the podium.
“He spoke about how difficult it is to defend tax evaders because the IRS special agents are so smart and tough,” Kelly said. “I was fascinated and had to find out more! Fortunately, a group of agents agreed to meet with me. They were all very intelligent, driven, and attractive – not at all the stereotypical nerdy auditor. They’re the ‘cool kids’ of finance – smart enough to understand intricate business transactions, but bad-ass enough to handle weapons, too.”
Of course, that isn’t Kelly’s real life. In fact, the author spends her days trying to keep her clients out of trouble, while Tara Holloway is trying to arrest them. But both the real life and fiction CPAs are working to make sure everyone pays their fair share and plays by the rules.
Which brings us back to my opening question: How does Kelly manage to inject humor into the cold and potentially boring subject of tax fraud investigation? As it turns out, she does it in a couple of different ways.
“Mostly by populating the books with a cast of offbeat smart asses,” Kelly says. “But I toss in some crazy situations, too. The fact that Tara works for the IRS gives her a context in which to pursue criminals, often with comedic results. I also tend to use a lot of wordplay, so much of the humor comes from the language I use.”
That having been said, how will she keep the series exciting? That part, she says, will come from the infinite variation available.
“Any time there’s a crime involving money,” Kelly says, “it’s a potential tax case since illegal income often goes unreported. That leaves me a lot of material to work with – drug dealers, investment scams, terrorism, money laundering, illegal gambling, loan sharking . . . the list is endless!”
With stories that are well-crafted mysteries, and a humorous female protagonist, it is inevitable that Kelly’s work would be compared to: Janet Evanovich’s work. And Kelly doesn’t mind people making that comparison, although there are differences.
“My character Tara Holloway is like a more educated, more organized, and better trained version of Stephanie Plum, but both of them pursue criminals with comedic results.”
So if you’re looking for “A hilarious, sexy, heart-pounding ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat,” (National Readers Choice Award Winner Gemma Halliday) and a story that will make you “laugh your assets off!” (mystery author Jana DeLeon) you should pick up a copy of DEATH, TAXES, AND A FRENCH MANICURE by Diane Kelly.
A CPA/tax attorney, Diane spent several years with a “Big Four” accounting firm, where she worked with a partner later indicted for tax shelter fraud. She also served a stint as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas under an AG indicted for criminal activity related to the tobacco company lawsuits. Given this work history, Diane decided self-employment might be a good idea. She also realized her experiences with white-collar crime made excellent fodder for a novel. Her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her “Death and Taxes” series.
To learn more about Diane, please visit her website.