Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: "Murder Can Wreck Your Reunion" (1997)

"A what?"

"A divorce party," my niece repeated. "Sybil's divorce became final a few weeks ago -- you remember Sybil, my friend from college, don't you?"

"I never met her, but is sounds familiar. I think I remember hearing about her."

"That's what I meant. Anyhow, she's throwing this big bash over the weekend to celebrate her divorce."

"How very nineties of her," I remarked sarcastically.

Synopsis: Plus-sized Manhattan PI Desiree Shapiro leaps into action when her beloved niece, Ellen, attends a college reunion weekend and becomes a suspect in a murder.

Seriously, this type of thing never happens to me. That might be for the best.

Grade: A

The fourth book in the series, this is easily my favorite. There's no recipes, per se, but there's a lot of food that gets eaten in very telling ways. The forced consumption of a lousy meal before a difficult conversation; the death grip on a coffee cup when the way ahead gets hard; escargot and when people feel compelled to comment on them. Who you invite (and don't) to share your French fries and how many shrimp your date snags from a shrimp cocktail he then puts on your tab. This book's got a lot on its plate.

Desiree Shapiro's beloved niece Ellen winds up suspect in a murder when she attends a reunion weekend (the divorce party, above) and one of the guests takes a header from the balcony into an empty swimming pool. There's nothing for it but for Desiree to toss on her best wig and head into battle.

This is a pretty simple, straightforward, incredibly well-managed book. Desiree only has five suspects to investigate (not counting Ellen) and as she works from one to the next, she also works on cases for her other clients, because she's very much the epitome of the hard-working, hustling P.I. She does the jobs other P.I.'s don't like, she does the ones that seem a little scummy or get her yelled at and she does them because she's gotta eat, just like everyone else.

This is also easily the darkest of the series so far, touching on child molestation and gang rape, homicide, pettiness, infidelity and spousalcide.

While Desiree's social calendar (clients, romantic life, Ellen, clients, Ellen) is a whirl, but she never lets it go to her head. The whole slew of supporting characters move across the page with ease but never dominate, and the ending, while narratively satisfying, leaves the reader with no doubt that sometimes there's just resolution and no closure. It's wonderful.

For me, this book hit the trifecta: unforgettable characters, tight plot, technically clean and polished writing style. All that and nary a recipe to be found. Definitely going on the re-read pile.

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