Picking up the first book in a nineteen book series is not something I do lightly, but this particular book in this particular series had a protagonist I was curious to meet.
Claire Malloy was the proprietor of a bookstore in a small American college town, a widow with a teenage daughter, and a woman who readers seemed to either love or hate. I think I’m coming down on the side of love. I found her to be brash and outspoken, I appreciated that she was strong and capable, and I loved her dark wit. I wouldn’t want to meet her in real life, but she was excellent company on the printed page.
Hosting the launch of an erotic romance was not something Claire would usually do – and ‘The Professor of Passion’ was definitely not the kind of book she would have on her shelves – but she agreed because the woman who stood behind the pseudonym ‘Azalea Twilight’ was her friend and neighbour Mildred Twiller. And because Mildred was the type of lady who would not take no for an answer.
The launch party was one to remember. There were protestors outside. A reading from the book revealed that it was a very thinly veiled roman a clef. And later that day the author was found strangled with her own silk scarf.
There were plenty of suspects. A good number of people recognised themselves in the text, and had secrets come tumbling out that they had hoped to keep hidden.
There were lots of reasons for Claire to get involved. Her business was affected; her friends were affected, her daughter was taking rather too much interest in what was going on; she was getting on rather well with the detective in charge; and she was the kind of woman who had to do things, had to find out for herself.
I appreciated that; there weren’t any of the contrivances that some books use to pull a protagonist who isn’t a professional detective in the story,
And I appreciated the way that Joan Hess handled the drama. She brought different characters to the fore, she showed another side to Claire through revelations in the book, and she twisted her tale very well.
There were some nice nods to classic detective fiction – but you shouldn’t read this book before you read ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ – Claire considers a theory that gives the ending away.
I have some reservations. The tone was a little uneven, some of the characterisations were less than subtle, and the finale was disappointing.
But those are all things that I hope will settle down as the series progresses. I see a good deal of potential here. And some interesting ideas in the next few books in the series.
This was a short book, a quick easy read, and a lovely diversion between more serious books.