Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: "The Teaberry Strangler" (2010)

"Do you know anything about the language of roses?"

"What do you mean?" asked Theodosia.

"During the Victorian era," said Drayton, "the use of rose symbolism was extremely popular. It became a subtle form of communication."

"Like text messaging today," said Theodosia.

"Not exactly," said Drayton.

Synopsis: The indefatigable Theodosia Browning continues to run her merry crew of teashop irregulars and solve murders all over Charleston's historic shopping district. This time it's Daria, owner of an antique map store, who turns up dead and Theodosia's unlucky enough to witness the crime. So, between running her teashop, hanging out with her dog and trying to close on her new cottage, Theodosia solves the crime.

Grade: C+

Okay people, listen up: I am willing to put up good money for one of the next books in this series to feature Delaine Dash (owner of the Cotton Duck!) as the corpse. Good money. I just can't remember a character who got under my skin like she does. It's amazing. I just...she... flames...on the side of my face...burning--heaving--

Oh this is such a good series, people. It just is. I would have tea at that teashop in an instant, no matter if they were brewing Darjeeling in a dead man's open skull when I got there. The books are just that fun.

It is all about the sense of place, I think, that Childs gives to this series that makes me love it so much. I was trying, the other day, to think of mystery series where I can't think of the series without immediately thinking of the city. Like for me, Sharon McCone will always be San Francisco. And V.I. Warshawski will always be Chicago; Tess Monaghan is Baltimore, the Liquor boys are New Orleans, Archy McNally is Palm Beach and NYC is sort of in a three-way toss-up between the 87th precinct, Claire Cosi and Edward X. Delaney. In exactly the same way, Theodosia Browning is Charleston.

It's a great, iconic series.

But this is not a great, iconic book. It's a good book. It's a solid entry in the series and with a lot of the plot strands, I felt like Childs has a beautiful long sheet of butcher paper tacked up along one wall of her house with all these interwoven strands and Teaberry Strangler is one section, and the next book is another, and there are certain dots that have to advance in certain ways.

For instance, the reintroduction of Jorie Davis, who, while an unfortunate romantic choice (I keep wanting Drayton to pour hot tea in his lap) also keeps things interesting much more than the milquetoast restauranteur Theodosia took up with on the rebound. And the way Theodosia kept wistfully saying "Oh Haley, I do so hope I won't LOSE YOU SOMEDAY WHEN A BIG CATERING OPPORTUNITY COMES ALONG."

Seriously, she said it like four times. Hi. Thanks. I think we now safely know what you've got planned for Haley. Gotcha. Right there with ya. Keep going with the story.

And I liked the story. I liked the cast of weirdos surrounding the victim, and I liked how they were more than they seemed, some of them. I loved how Theodosia gets her big girl heels on whenever someone intends to hurt her dog, because if anyone ever comes after my dogs, you will be able to buy jars of that person as a paste in supermarkets everywhere, I'll tell you that right now.

But two things went wrong here:

1. Okay. No less than five different people were all OH THEODOSIA PLEASE SOLVE THIS MYSTERY YOU ARE SO AWESOME. And then Theodosia blushed and simpered. That is Mary Sue territory. I do not like that. I am not saying Theodosia was a Mary Sue this time out, I'm just saying we can all see that land from here and it's not a good place.

2. The ending. OY the ending. Was not supported by the plot in the least. Noooooo. I went back and looked for clues I'd missed, people, because I spell anal-retentive with a hyphen. It did not make the least sense at all, and took like eight pages from boss fight to glass-clinking resolution and then fin. Like, if you stand up from a fistfight, wipe your hands on a linen napkin then serve punch for guests, I'm sorry, but you're the Cylon. It's you.


And humbug.

Which in no way means I'm not going to read the next entry in the series, it just means that if you have a really strong, iconic series -- and I do think it's fair to say this series is iconic at this point -- you can get away with a fair amount of missteps. Just not often.

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