Monday, January 19, 2009

Don’t Judge Death By Its Looks

Contrary to the popular proverb, plenty of people select books based on the winsomeness of their dust jackets, and if cover content alone counted, Linda L. Richards would rock the bestseller lists. Her hardcover debut, Death Was the Other Woman, not only possesses a killer title, it also has artwork so sharp you could cut yourself on it. The front features a bleary-eyed gumshoe pouring a drink as he stares up at the beauty with bee-stung lips leaning against his desk, a pistol coolly clasped in her hand. Intrigue, gunplay and a hint of romance -- what’s not to love?

This promise carries past the flyleaf and into the first few chapters. Kitty Panghorn was once a high-flying society girl until the Great Depression came down or her family’s fortune like a load of bricks and her father took a short walk out an eighth-story window. Penniless in Los Angeles, Kitty finds the first work she can, becoming the secretary of one Dexter Theroux, private investigator. But Dex spends so much time examining the bottom of the bottle that when a saucy minx strolls into the office with a case, he blows the whole thing by falling asleep on the job. A dead body turns up. Then it disappears. Soon the police take an interest in the mystery -- a mystery only Kitty may be able to solve.

Unfortunately, the set-up soon develops as many holes as a Mafia informant. Prohibition-era crime fiction ought to sound punchy and hard-bitten, but the novel lapses into prose better suited for domestic drama than a detective story. And while mysteries occasionally allow coincidence to connect clues, serendipity becomes both the mortar and masonry of The Other Woman’s action. None of this is helped by a talky, anticlimactic denouement. Still, the characters are interesting and the premise compelling. Here’s to hoping Richards’ future novels eclipse their excellent covers.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
Jonathan Ruel)

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