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SKIRTING THE GRAVE


By Annette Blair

Berkley Prime Crime, 2011 ($7.99)
ISBN-10: 0425242226
ISBN-13: 978-0-425-24222-3

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Madeira "Maddie" Cutler's vintage clothing store in Mystick Falls, Connecticut, near the historic town of Mystic, is doing well, and she is thrilled to receive the gift of a trunk full of vintage designer duds. The gift comes with strings attached, however. Her sister Brandy has bequeathed her an intern, Isobel York, a New York model who wants to learn Maddie's special skills with fashion design.

Maddie doesn't want or need an intern, especially one who is rich and probably spoiled, but she can't say no to her sister. Literally, she can't say no, Brandy doesn't allow that. She spent years in the Peace Corps and now spends her time holding fund-raising events for her pet cause, a children's organization. She's coming to town for one such gala to be held at the Vancourtland mansion, owned by sister Sherry's father-in-law. She gets mugged and loses her train ticket, then runs into an old friend, further delaying her arrival. Not to worry, she's given Maddie most of the responsibility for planning the 1950's-themed event, and Maddie always comes through. Brandy also appointed Maddie to plan Sherry's baby shower, so she's feeling a little stressed.

When Brandy calls to tell Maddie about the delay, she adds a BTW: Isobel is arriving in Mystic on the train Brandy missed, and Maddie needs to go pick her up, immediately, if not sooner. Maddie closes the store and rushes to the station, searching the crowd of new arrivals for an impeccably well-dressed young woman. No one fits the bill, but she notices a flurry of activity centered around a woman wearing Salvation Army couture. She is stretched out on the ground, pale and unmoving. Not her gal, for sure. Maddie sees a familiar face. Detective Lytton Werner, whom she's known most of her life. The two had a complicated relationship: he'd never forgiven her for calling him "Little Weiner" in third grade school, after he insulted her for being overly interested in fashion. Things had changed recently after they shared a life-threatening situation and a thermonuclear kiss. Her heart still belongs to Nick, an FBI agent, but they'd had a parting of the ways and she hasn't heard from him in months.

Maddie tells Werner she's looking for Isobel. While she feels sorry for the recently deceased, fashion compromised, young woman, she's sure Isobel missed the train. Werner asks her what Isobel's last name is, and when she says "York," he gives her the bad news. The girl's ID indicates that Maddie has found her intern after all. Or has she?

Maddie lives with her dad in the family home. Late that night she hears someone at the door. She and her dad find a fashionably dressed woman who announces that she is Isobel York. Maddie's dumbfounded. The woman is a dead ringer for the girl from the train station. Curiouser and curiouser ...

She announces that she is Isobel York, and apologizes for her late arrival. She, too, was robbed on the way to the train. Her bag was found, minus her ID and train ticket. Since the first Isobel's body had been identified by the driver's license and by a close friend, the second Isobel has some explaining to do. Is she the good twin or the bad twin? And who is the angry man who's been calling Maddie, claiming to be her brother?

This is a tale of tangled family ties, deceit, corruption, murder, double weddings and fabulous vintage clothing. Maddie does have a couple of unpleasant experiences with Isobel's Grand-Mere's trunk of exquisite togs, but her "gift" for having flashbacks about the previous owners of the clothing plays a lesser role in this book than in the previous ones. Two of my favorite characters, Dante, a debonair ghost who lives in Maddie's store, and his very much alive 104 year old love, Dolly, get short shrift. For my taste, there is far too much emphasis on Maddie's lust for both Werner and Nick, who shows up because he's working a case related to the death of the Isobel look-alike. She's constantly dithering about which one she wants, and they are constantly glaring at each other, surrounded by clouds of testosterone and schoolboy taunting.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books in the Vintage Magic mystery series, and I hope that in the future, there will be more mystery, more elegant vintage clothing with tales to tell, and less tortured romance.

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