of the Ice Pick My top mystery pick for February is Tim Cockey's wildly original Hearse of a Different Color. This sophomore effort in the series featuring hip Baltimore undertaker Hitchcock Sewell is easily the equal of its clever predecessor, The Hearse You Came In On. Or maybe better. Sewell is an unlikely detective at best; after all, most of his cases are quite cold by the time he comes into the picture. So when a beautiful corpse is unceremoniously dumped onto the snowy doorstep of his funeral home, disrupting the somber tone of an evening viewing, Hitch finds himself with a grave undertaking . . . to unearth the perpetrator. With the able assistance of his mercurial television weather-person girlfriend and his colorful artist ex-wife, Hitch goes digging around the seamy underbelly of Baltimore in search of clues.

That a detective novel can be witty and clever should come as no surprise; where Cockey shines, however, is with his insights about the human condition, particularly as it relates to death: "I gathered from the way she talked about her that Vickie Wagoner had not had a whole lot to do with her mother for a number of years. But death can leave a hole where a person once stood, and sometimes the ones who have been left behind find the need to pour the details of the person's life back into it."

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