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STEEPED IN MURDER


by Linda French

Avon, 1999
ISBN: 0-380-79576-0

Reviewed by Jennifer Ashley

Professor of Pacific northwest history, Theodora Morelli, faces a distasteful assignment given by no less than the president of the university--she must placate a wealthy woman who believes her foolish and bumbling ancestor was a great general. The president insists Theodora go along with the woman's delusions so that she and her husband will donate money to the university.

Theodora's passion for historical truth cringes at the task, and she begs the chair of the history department to get her out of it. On top of her first problem, the chair's wife has ordered a statue for a Catholic church, which is delivered to the department by mistake and wedged into Theodora's office for safekeeping. The chair agrees to help on both counts--unfortunately, someone kills him the next day.

But life goes on in a university. The department hires a young, petite, and beautiful Chinese-American woman, improbably named Muffy Woo, to take over the chair's classes. Theodora is assigned to let Muffy (and her vast wardrobe) stay with her. Theodora's eccentric uncle has also chosen to visit, and sleeps in an RV in Theodora's driveway.

Theodora, Muffy, and Uncle Aldo commence investigating the death of the chair. To make Theodora's life still more difficult, the wealthy couple pops up haphazardly to drag Theodora with them on their quest to deify their ancestor, and the police believe Theodora was romantically involved with the dead professor.

Theodora finds herself involved in smuggling, blackmail, and danger in the cold waters of Puget Sound, while she tries to find the murderer, explain the truth about the wealthy woman's ancestor, and get rid of the statue in her office.

This cozy mystery contains a mixture of humor and darkness, as most cozies do. The author draws both amusing and horrifying characters, and makes it difficult to determine who is sinister and who is harmless. She also has a good grasp of the Pacific northwest and its history and relates it through Theodora in a non-pedantic way.

Weaknesses? The solution was predictable, and the plot was too, to some extent, though fun to read. Theodora was not a character I warmed to, though I liked the secondary characters of Uncle Aldo and Muffy. Characters tended to be overly quirky, sometimes unbelievably so. Also, we are meant to believe that Theodora was training to compete in a triathlon, but she exercised only once in the entire book (a swim in the lake near her house). That session set up a later scene, but even so I can't imagine a triathlon competitor not running, swimming, or biking at least once a day.

The book was a fun read, regardless. If you like cozies or Washington State, you'll probably enjoy this book.

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