|Dolores Johnson: Wash, Fold, and Die|
(Paperback), ISBN 0-440-23523-5
It's bad enough that the corpse in question, a gorgeous if thoroughly feckless artist named Jeremiah Atkins, used to put every hormone in Mandy's body through the wringer. Mandy once nurtured dreams of running away with Jeremiah -- if he ever divorced his wife. But Jeremiah never got around to it, and after his first presumed death, Mandy became good friends with Jeremiah's wife Rosalie. Now Mandy can't bring herself to hang Rosalie out to dry, no matter how hard the detective on the case, Mandy's occasional lover Stan Foster, presses Mandy to dish the dirt on her friend.
To prevent Rosalie and Jeremiah's dirty linen from becoming grounds for a murder charge, Mandy mobilizes the Dyer's Cleaners irregulars to iron out the wrinkles in the case. What was Jeremiah doing in the alley where they found his body? Was there a relationship between his disappearance and a major art theft at about the same time? Had Jeremiah continued to paint while in hiding?
Johnson's writing comes into its own with her affectionate portraits of Mandy's cleaning cohorts. Unlike some series, you don't need a checklist to sort and tag the regulars. Johnson's recurring characters prove nearly indelible. I swear I heard James Earl Jones saying plant manager McKenzie Rivers' lines. And Betty, the former bag lady more or less employed at Mandy's plant, threatens to jump off the pages and invite herself into your home. (Be afraid, be very afraid!) Johnson also neatly bags the assorted characters tied to the book's central mystery.
Unfortunately, the book's plotting proves weaker than its characterizations. Mandy spends far too much time driving through late spring blizzards from one remote mountainous location to another. No one who ever spent a spring vacation in Denver would contest Johnson's depiction of its fickle mountain weather. But Mandy's repeated excursions add little to the plot except extra pages.
Still, Mandy Dyer remains good company, even if she does hang you up in one too many snowdrifts. And you can always be sure she will (pre) spot the bad guy or gal by book's end.
Jean Marie Ward
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