The body count is rising and Theo struggles to find the killer before she's the next victim or her new life is exposed as an elaborate fraud. But the more deeply entangled she becomes, the more her investigation is complicated by her best friend, who is one of her prime suspects; her young protégé, who may or may not have a juvie record; her stern and unyielding grandfather, who exposes an unexpected soft center; and the man on her washing machine, who isn't quite what he appears either.
Susan Cox's Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award-winning novel is a charming debut with wacky, colorful characters and a delightfully twisted mystery.
Nothing was different about the Wednesday morning Tim Callahan died. Tim was a petty thief and a bully. I can’t think of anyone who’ll miss him, but being thrown out of a three-story window seems like more punishment than he deserved.
When I woke up, fog was obscuring my slice of Golden Gate Bridge view but sun was expected later, which is fairly typical. I pulled on jeans after a quick shower, and gathered my emotional resources to face another day of lying to every single person I knew. The effort took a toll I hadn’t considered when I moved here eighteen months ago. All the same, for no particular reason I was feeling more hopeful that morning than I’d been for a long time. The dim sum aroma from Hang Chow’s down the block was more appealing; the air a little crisper; colors a little brighter. If I’d been less absorbed with how my friends would react if they found out the truth, I might have wondered what the hell was wrong with me.
I walked down to Helga’s coffee shop and strolled back with my morning tea. The climbing rose was doing its best to obscure the front window of my fancy little bath and body shop, and I made a mental note to have Davie trim it back. He’d turned a corner since he tried to rob me the first week we were in business and, somehow, he never left. We gave him a fifteenth birthday party last month. The rose needed attention, but the planter had been repaired and the whole building painted just after I bought it so it looked good on the outside, even if my top-floor flat was still in the throes of an endless renovation. My tenant in the middle apartment was good at handyman stuff, so his place was nicer than mine at the moment. A friend of a friend was about to move into the ground-floor studio apartment and then I’d have a full house.
Like the British Royals I live over the shop, and I climbed the two flights of stairs to my flat, still thinking about the rose because it was easier than facing other things. Lucy, a burdensome representative of her short, bad-tempered canine gene pool, lumbered out from the bedroom to welcome me back. She realized I was carrying a muffin instead of Milk-Bones, gave me a disillusioned look, and went back to the bed we shared. Until a couple of days ago we’d slept on the Murphy bed in the studio behind the garage rather than risk brain damage upstairs from the fumes of paint and glue. Finding the new tenant meant I’d have to risk it, and besides, I was fed up with sleeping downstairs and commuting up here to my small selection of identical jeans and T-shirts. A couple of days before I’d had a mattress delivered and dropped on the floor of my bedroom. Lucy and I were both more comfortable and I could stop worrying that the Murphy bed mechanism in the studio would fail somehow and stuff us, still sleeping, into the wall cavity. I know—never going to happen. But irrational fears are irrational by nature, right? In any event, I hoped my new tenant had no Murphy bed issues. I liked the view much better from up here, and if I kept the windows open the fumes weren’t too bad.
I wandered back through the mostly unfurnished flat, picking my way through the jungle of timber propped against the walls and the coils of electrical cable littering the floor. The building trembled as it does every now and again. Minor earthquakes can be shrugged off after you’ve lived here for a while. The first few raise your heartbeat a little. The ever-present threat of a big killer shake had added to the renovation costs because shear walls and foundation bolts don’t come cheap. Even so, the result was a priceless refuge from my former life. So far, no one from my Maserati and Bollinger days had come looking for me behind the counter of a small neighborhood store five thousand miles from home.
I could hear Davie shuffling around in the tiny yard behind the shop and the vigorous swishing of a broom. I leaned out of the window and saw the top of his closely cropped head balanced on his thick body like a basketball. By some instinct he looked up and caught sight of me. “Hey, Theo,” he called in his foghorn voice, “you need me up there?”
I shook my head and he went back to his sweeping. I’m not particularly maternal (that’s English understatement right there), but I make sure he does his homework and try to feed him a healthy meal occasionally. Some of his pals have done time in juvie; I’m reasonably sure Davie hasn’t.
I finished my muffin and sipped my tea looking down from my bedroom window at the leafy pocket park that occupies the combined property behind all the buildings on our block and reminds me of my home in England. San Francisco is great in a lot of ways, but I still get homesick sometimes. The way the residents tell it, the landscape has survived nearly a century of volunteer caretaker-gardeners with different and often opposing views of how the space should be used. Pine-needle pathways meander in random directions. Benches and strategic clusters of Adirondack chairs provide places to relax, read, or doze. There are several areas of lawn, a koi pond, some lush perennial borders, and a ruthlessly disciplined knot garden the kids use as a maze and the adults use as a meditation labyrinth. A large compost pile and a toolshed share the blue-collar end of the garden with the ragged abundance of a raised-bed vegetable garden. One of the swings in the cedarwood jungle gym was still rocking gently from the effect of the earthquake.
I was turning away when a flash of movement caught my eye in one of the third-floor windows opposite and very quickly something landed with an abrupt and repulsive thud on the lawn near the children’s swings. I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, certain I must have imagined it. But when I opened them he was still there—a man dressed entirely in white, crumpled on the neatly shaved green lawn with his arms and legs arranged around him like a swastika.
This reviewer was not in the least bit prepared for the unflappable Miss Theo Bogart. And her very British approach to what might loosely be described as Cozy Mystery.
But you know how it is with those Brits. When your family gets a little deadly you just move to another country, buy a building, start a business, and inadvertently solve murders on the side.
All the while living under an assumed identity. And hoping that no one will put two and two together.
Nursing the perfect cup of Earl Grey. With milk, of course.
One can get through anything with a good cup of tea.
That is the reason that we are all here after all.
It seems that Theo, is in just the right spot to see Tim Callahan. Take a very graceless Swan dive out of a third story window.
Setting off an unforgettable chain of events. And introducing readers to an even more memorable host of characters.
As you can see my review is a little vague on the deets.
The discovery is nine-tenths of the fun.
I will say that you really won't see the end coming.
This is a very well written, multilevel mystery that ends in a serious WTF and leaves you clamoring for more.