A Southern Beauty Shop Mystery

By Lila Dare

Berkley Prime Crime, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0425245880

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

The residents of St. Elizabeth, Georgia, are on edge, watching the progress of Hurricane Horatio as it makes its way closer to land. Grace Terhune is not too worried: her family home has withstood two hundred years of hurricanes. The beauty parlor she and her mother run is located in the house, and the customers are abuzz with their plans for the storm.

After the shop closes, shampoo girl Rachel Whitley asks Grace to be a chaperone for her high school ghost busting field-trip to the Rothmere mansion, now a historic plantation open to the public. Somewhat reluctantly, Grace agrees. The trip takes place on the night before Halloween, and the adults expect the kids to play a few pranks. Will they see the ghost of Cyril Rothmere, who died of mysterious causes in 1831? The kids hope so; the adults, not so much. By the end of the night, no ghosts are found, but a student almost becomes one. Is it an accident, or was he pushed? And were the hands human or other-worldly? The student is found in the exact place where Cyril's body was found. Coincidence?

In preparation for the field-trip, Grace had borrowed a box of old family papers recently acquired by the museum. She becomes intrigued with the Rothmere family, especially Cyril's daughter Clarissa. Letters show that the girl was deeply affected by her father's death, and that all was not well with the family. As time goes by, she begins to wonder if the crimes of the past can shed light on those of the present.

Feeling responsible for the student's accident, Grace tries to figure out what happened, questioning those involved. Pretty soon she gets some very negative feedback that somebody doesn't like her snooping, but she's nothing if not persistent. She is careful, though, and has some assistance from a couple of law enforcement officers. Even so, things come to a dramatic and almost catastrophic conclusion in the midst of the hurricane.

This is the third in Dare's Southern Beauty Shop mystery series, and it is a ripping good tale. The setting drips with Southern charm as thick as the Spanish moss draping the live oaks. Grace is a spirited, likable heroine, smart and resourceful, and the supporting cast of characters is equally entertaining. The stresses and problems of the young people are realistic and believable. This promises to be an excellent series, and it is highly recommended.

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