Tour’s Books Blog

March 5, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Mummy Dearest by Joan Hess

This 17th installment of the Claire Malloy series finally gives us a great change of location – all the way to Luxor Egypt. Joan thanks fellow writer and Egyptologist Elizabeth Peters for acting as her tour guide and mentor while in Egypt. Unfortunately, none of Ms. Peters’ plotting skills rubbed off in this book. Joan Hess writes two mystery series, her Claire Malloy series and Maggody series. I’ve read several of the Maggody books, but never really got into them. I do usually enjoy her Claire Malloy books, though they are admittedly lightweight mysteries. Claire’s relationship with her ‘Drama Queen’ daughter, Caron is always good for laughs. Her discrete romance with hunky police detective Peter Rosen has progressed slowly through most of the series.

In Mummy Dearest, Claire and Peter have finally tied the knot and head out to Egypt for their honeymoon. Very romantic, but they do have her daughter Caron and Caron’s inseparable best friend, Inez, along. Perhaps this seems a bit odd to you and me, but Peter is combining business with pleasure and attending meetings relating to his new job responsibilities, the ones he can’t discuss. Ensconced in the best suite the Winter Palace in Luxor has to offer and the one of the local policemen acting as their driver whenever they want to go out, the little group stirs the curiosity and interest of the hotels annual eccentric denizens from England – who, alas, all come from central casting in a 1930’s Charlie Chan or Agatha Christie novel.

First up is the obsequious hotel manager Ahmed, then the loud and pushy American Sitterman – Texan in this case. At an afternoon cocktail party (very 1930’s) we have the minor British nobleman, Lord Bledrock, and his handsome, charming son Alexander – who convinced Claire and Peter to attend and in the process became the immediate center of attention for seventeen year old Caron and Inez. Next is the old tartar of British widow Rose McHaver and her much abused, mousy, great niece Miriam. Dr. Shannon King, an overbearing woman with a very high opinion of herself because she’s an “acting” department head at some tiny US college, photographer Wallace Laxenby who works for her on the little dig she has titular authority over. Naturally, we must have the twittering, elderly English ladies, maiden sisters Miss Cordelia and Miss Portia who are fond of slightly suggestive jokes.

There is the elderly Egyptian room servant who utters dire warnings and gives occasional cryptic advice is in and out of the suite. A trip to the Valley of the Kings the following day with includes a stop at the dig funded by Lord Bledrock among other, that is really managed by is Magritta Vonderlochen. Also there is graduate student, Jess Delmont, playing poor student. Our requisite ingénue is the excessively chatty, extroverted, overly helpful and insistent Miss Salima el-Musafira who exchanges sniping remarks with the handsome Alexander as only those attracted can. Finally, we have a pair of backpackers, one a stranded Valley Girl type, Buffy Franz (I wonder if she carried stakes) and the other the perennial student type, Samuel Berry. Then there’s the mysterious man who keeps disappearing around corners whenever Caron and Inez spot him.

Readers of English cozies will be forgiven if they feel as if they’ve met all these folks before, because you have, in one form or another in various locals around the world. I’m sure Joan Hess did this deliberately, a sort of homage to the country house murder genre, and to Ms. Peters’ Amelia Peabody, for her extensive assistance in her trip to Egypt, but it only sort of works. It needed either more sharp observations from the usually no nonsense Claire, and/or more of a creative plot.

Claire’s sanguine acceptance of Peter’s chronic absences is out of character. The antics of Caron and Inez have reached that grating stage of life and Claire allows rather an unusual amount of latitude too, given the fact neither is an experienced international traveler. Finally, we have the murders, an apparent kidnapping, and the theft of historic artifacts and other felonies while enjoying infrequent excursions to Abu Simbel and other spots. Mostly, Claire seems idles away her time alone on her balcony watching life pass her by, reading a trashy romance that is just too awful to put down, or attending endless cocktail parties she loathes. I found this a very bizarre honeymoon.

It goes without saying we have tomb robbers, illegal trade in artifacts as well as faked artifacts, gun runners, would be terrorists, and a murderer. The solution is intricate, but not shocking or even very interesting. It does tie up the loose ends. And the denouement is in the suite with all the characters on hand while Peter watches his new wife play Poirot. What can I say, if you’re going to do a cliché ridden homage, then do it all.

Joan Hess just isn’t quite up to the creative level to pull this one off. Still, as a lightweight cozy it’s OK. Given its location, (I loved Egypt) it had the potential to be a great deal more. Read it with a martini or gin and tonic in honor of the original master of the genre – Dame Agatha Christie. And don’t forget your umbrella – for Amelia Peabody!

My Grade: C+

Who would enjoy this book: Fans of Jill Churchill’s Jan Jeffries mysteries, Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz mysteries, books by Tim Meyers and JoAnna Carl’s Chocoholic mysteries.


1 Comment »

  1. One of my favorite cozy crime writer. Very funny.

    Comment by pochp — March 4, 2009 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

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