Tour’s Books Blog

February 27, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Armed and Glamorous by Ellen Byerrum

Ellen Byerrum is a Washington DC reporter, playwright, licensed PI in Virginia, and author of the Crimes of Fashion series, one of the more undervalued cozy series out there, in my opinion anyway. (Everyone who feels like a serious underachiever, raise your hand!) Her most recent title is Armed and Glamorous released in July of 2008. Her writing is crisp and very readable and she doesn’t detour into prolonged, unrelated tangents – and more importantly, her lead character isn’t a brain dead, self adsorbed, twit who heedlessly barrels thru crime investigations with no sign of intelligent thought. Lacey might be determined, and she certainly aspires to be more than a fashion reporter, but she’s not stupidly reckless.

Fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian of the Eye Street Observer has been told she’s doing a special article on divorcee socialite Cecily Ashton’s collection of designer originals prior to a showing at the Smithsonian Museum and Cecily herself is granting an interview. The rich really are different from everyone else – and Cecily is not exactly what she expected, but the clothes!!!!!!!!!! And Lacey knows her stuff. After all, she inherited very little except a trunk full of designer clothes and patterns from her aunt and she puts them to good use doing her job as the paper’s resident fashionist.

Boyfriend Vic Donovan is off at a conference, so Lacey decided it’s high time she got some training in how to do detective work.  Lacey does what any fashion reporter with a yen for the crime beat would do – she takes course with a local PI. A large sign reading, “NO LOADED WEAPONS IN THE CLASSROOM” should have been a hint that this was going to be more, er, unusual than she planned. The instructor is a friend of Vic’s, so she should be in good hands. The first night of class brings a real odd mix of folks together, from a shy retiring woman to would-be-Dog-the-bounty-hunter types. And much to her chagrin, her best friend Brooke’s conspiracy nut internet ‘journalist’ boyfriend, Damon Newhouse. It also brings a surprise during break, a very dead Cecily Ashton in her car in the parking lot. Was it murder? Suicide? Cecily’s super rich ex-husband is not above bringing all kinds of pressure on Lacey to get what he wants. To make her life complete, ex-KGB agent Gregor Kepelov (Raiders of the Lost Corset) and occasional adversary, helps teach the classes – including one where the students teamed up to actually trying tracking vehicles in on the streets. Guess who gets the near hysterical and very slow driver at the wheel? And on top of everything, it seems someone might want her dead.

With her friends Stella, the off the wall, but very talented hair stylist who takes a joke and turns it into a code book for passing secret messages in plain speak – and Brooke, a seemingly uptight lawyer with a bent towards assuming hidden conspiracies, Lacey sets out to satisfy her curiosity, and maybe save her job. And maybe a lot more than that in the end. The solution is surprising as is the motive. Maybe bit too unbelievable and contrived, but clever.

Unlike the vast majority of cozies, Ellen Byerrum writes a step above. Part of it is her Washington insider journalist experience and part of it choosing an intelligent, mature woman, not some flaky ditz, as her lead character. It gives her books a kind of depth rarely seen in cozies these days. Byerrum also avoids the trap of “forced insanity for laughs”, the hallmark of authors like Janet Evanovich, that seem to be saturating the market these days. Of the 8 books in this series, this one seemed to have the most pluses and minuses. The story does have a slow start, but it is also more complex. Byerrum is also balancing more main players and unrelated activities. Vic only shows up at the end, so on the personal side, it’s a ‘girls only’ outing. I like the supporting players, especially Newhouse and Kepelov.

My Grade: B-

Who would enjoy this book: Readers of Gemma Halliday’s High Heels series, Carolyn G. Hart’s Death on Demand series, and the Vicki Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. The rating for the entire Crimes of Fashion series is PG and the books range from C+ to A-.

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