Tour’s Books Blog

October 21, 2009

Book Review: Too Rich and Too Dead by Cynthia Baxter

  • Title: Too Rich and Too Dead
  • Author: Cynthia Baxter
  • Type: Mystery
  • Genre: Cozy – Amateur Sleuth
  • Sub-genre: Travel Writer
  • My Grade: B- (3.7*)
  • Rating: PG
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure:  Book purchased at an online bookstore

Cynthia Baxter is well know to cozy readers for her Reigning Cats & Dogs mysteries set on Long Island and featuring veterinarian Jessica Popper.  In Too Rich and Too Dead. the second book in the new Murder Packs a Suitcase series, Ms Baxter takes a different route, but sticks with the basic idea of a middle class working woman rubbing shoulders with the rich – and the dead.  Mostly I enjoy Ms Baxter’s books, though like any cozy series – or maybe any series, there are some weak entries.  Hard to say how this one will go since this is just book two.

One of the advantages to books with a travel theme, is you don’t end up with an insane number of murder victims in some small town somewhere.  Lord knows, St Mary Mead must have seen a goodly part of its population done in so Miss Marple could investigate, and believe me, I wouldn’t go to Scrumble River or Maggody any time soon!  This way, at least the bodies are scattered, as they are in the Passport to Murder series.  But really, I have to believe that people who stumble over bodies on a regular basis would spur travel and visitor department to encourage them to visit the competition!  Also, how many bodies is an amateur allowed to find before they lose their amateur standing and become a pro?

Those curiosities aside, I do like amateur sleuth books.  I was raised on Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie.  I also acknowledge they lack a certain amount of credibility in this age of advanced forensic science.  They offer an escape into a simpler world.  And travel murder are even better – pure escapism with a thrill!  Murder among the beautiful and shallow people – well, been there, done that and no new ground is broken here, but Ms Baxter did good work and provides a classic Christie denouement.

Mallory Marlowe is a travel writer for The Good Life magazine, a widow, mother of two college kids, and busy working on an old high school connection to get the down-low on Rejuva-Juice.  Carly Cassidy Berman was a cheerleader, Home Coming Queen and all around golden girl in JFK High School.  About the only thing she and Mallory had in common was breathing the same air and graduating in the same class.  But Mallory was heading to Aspen to do an article on the attractions of Aspen for the non-skier, and she was definitely a non-skier, and Carly lived and ran her business from there.  She was also starting her own spa.  She can get Carly some press and she can maybe get an inside look at the Rejuva-Juice business.

Much to Mallory’s surprise, Carly takes her call, remembers her as ‘the who liked to read’, and immediately invites her to dinner at her house outside of town in a ritzy community.  Carly really as beautiful as ever, the house is drop dead beautiful, the company includes an aging but famous Hollywood director and the food is out of this world.  She takes Carly up on her offer to sit in on the live program she’s doing on Rejuva-Juice in town and Mallory is further impressed at how her former classmate traveled the world to find the products that go into her ‘secret formula’.  She also shocked when she hears Carly and her husband arguing so bitterly when they had seemed so lovey-dovey at dinner.  But minutes later, when Brett introduced Carly, you’d never have known they’d been bitterly fighting minutes before.  Nothing is ever quite what it seems in the land of the rich and famous.

After a night in the beautiful and historic Hotel Jerome (damn, I want a job that pays me to stay in Hotel Jerome!), Mallory wakes up to the news that Carly was murdered the night before at her yet to open spa, Tavaci Springs.  What’s a writer with a curiosity to do, but investigate?  Naturally, nothing is quite what it seems.  Mallory goes back to the Berman’s home to pay her respects to Brett only to have Juanita, the housekeeper, start telling her far more personal information about Carly’s and Brett’s infidelities than she ever expected.  And Harriett, the account/business manager for Tavaci Springs Spa even takes Mallory for a tour of the empty spa – where Carly met her untimely end.  Next morning Harriett is being held at the police station and calls Mallory, a virtual stranger, pleading for help.  She does what she can and then goes looking for Carly’s lover, Dusty, who turns out to be a young ski bum.  In the lobby of the hotel, she sees another guest from the Berman house making some very private lunch reservations up on the mountain.  She sneaks there herself to find Sylvie, a young, ambitious business woman who had been trying get Carly to seel Rejuva-Juice to HoliHealth, making reservations for two.  Who is she meeting?

In addition to the possible murders, as usual in traditional style cozies, you have a series of personal vignettes throughout the book playing alongside the mystery.  Mallory is curious and questioning, but not stupid, in her pursuit of the killer.  The writing style is blessedly free from distracting quirks and very readable, and the action well paced, if somewhat predictable in how it plays out.  Despite the trendy, jet-set Aspen setting and and characters, Ms Baxter resists the urge to create over-the-top, annoying personalities.  Mallory, our narrator, remains a practical and intelligent person. I liked a great deal about her; she’s a woman in her late 40’s, who is discovering that men are interested in her as a woman, she doesn’t get overwhelmed and bed hop like a horny 20-something, she’s grounded, but still girly enough to get a serious glow from a man’s interest.  Her husband David has been gone barely 2 years and she finds adjusting to the possibility of allowing another man into her life gives her pause for thought.  No,  the core mystery was not especially challenging, but the story was good enough that it didn’t blare the obvious, so the book held my interest throughout.  But a cozy is more than a mystery and that’s where Too Rich and Too Dead is at its best.  The plot does have twists and turns and even some red herrings, but just like Christie – or Law & Order – remember why people kill people and you’ll work it out.

Cynthia Baxter is a reliable, quality author and Murder Packs a Suitcase is a good series so far, though her characters are not quite as interesting as those in her Reigning Cats and Dogs series.  Mallory is not as much fun as the best of Joan Hess’ Claire Malloy series with its biting wit, or the stylish Maddie Bean mysteries by Jerrilyn Farmer, but much better than the average cozy out there.  No recipe, puzzle, cleaning tip, candle making, quilt making or other cutesy, kitchy theme in sight!   Man, have those books gotten on my last nerve.  Too Rich and Too Dead is solid, classic cozy mystery and I’ll be buying the next installment without hesitation.

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