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By Tamar Myers
Avon, May, 2009 ($7.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Abigail Timberlake Washburn, the pint-sized owner of the Den of Antiquity in the historic section of Charleston, just wanted to buy her mama a nice rosewood linen chest for her birthday. She ordered said chest online, then went to the port with her friend Cheng to pick it up. Instead of receiving her order, she is accosted by a bald man named Mr. Curly, who says she is in violation of customs law, trying to import illegal ivory. When he attempts to arrest her, Cheng (part Chinese, part Russian, part goat -- don't ask) jumps the lawmen. Cheng is a hefty gal, but no match for the long arm of the law, and the two ladies soon find themselves in a jail cell filled with ladies of another kind, who do not appreciate these interlopers. Abby is small, but when she's riled up she has the strength of ten, and some training in karate. Unfortunately, there are more than ten ladies of the evening in the cell, and Abby's husband, ex-cop turned shrimper, bails her out in the nick of time.
Greg assures her he's hired the best lawyer available to defend her on the smuggling case. The problem is, that lawyer is Buford Timberlake, her ex-husband. He's a good attorney, but he's between women at the moment and lets Abby know she can pay his fee in personal services. That doesn't sit well with her AT ALL, and he backs down. She doesn't plan on needing his services anyway: she's done some detective work before, and there's no reason she can't find out who the real smuggler is before the trial date. When Mr. Curly shows up again, offering apologies and a chance to participate in a sting operation, she jumps at the chance. Strangely, he doesn't give her any instructions, and he does not show up again until much later in the story.
Wynell Crawford, Abby's other best friend, suggests Abby place an ad in the paper offering a special ivory collection for sale. This brings out some pretty weird characters, including one man who's a wanna-be colonial big game hunter, a young man who manages the Singing Panda, an import company, who wears a green hooded robe and eats only food items that have been prepared with no pain involved, and the very large and exotic -- or is that eccentric -- "Lady Bowfrey." There is a marriage proposal, a pitch for a t.v. show, a kidnapping, a mother knapping, and all kinds of strange goings-on before the case is solved.
This is an entertaining series, but there are a bit too many over-the-top attempts at humor. Several of the characters keep mixing up words -- Mozella, Abby's mom, is happy that Buford and Gregg both want Abby, and says that in some cultures women can have more than one husband -- "Pollyanna," she says, instead of polyandrous; Abby substitutes "omelet" for "umlaut;" Wynell uses "double identify" instead of "double indemnity," and so forth. And as for Cheng/aka C.J. and her wild stories about her hometown, and being part goat -- a little of that goes a long way.
The strength of the series is in the love Abby and the other characters have for Charleston, and the description of this colorful town, and in the bond between the characters. Fans of the series will enjoy this installment.
The author includes an interesting Afterword about her childhood in the Congo, where her parents were missionaries. Her experiences there could make an interesting book in itself.
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