|Sarah Graves: Mallets Aforethought|
Bantam Dell (Hardcover), ISBN 0553803085
With a cutesy title like Mallets Aforethought, I didn't expect this book to be much more than a superficial cozy. But Sarah Graves, no slouch in the world of constructing stories, reeled me in with her first sentence: "The body was all withered sinews and leathery skin…"
Jacobia "Jake" Tiptree and her about-to-pop, pregnant best friend Ellie volunteer to help rehabilitate an ancient Victorian house so the local historical society can sell it. The house, the former mansion of Ellie's despicable great-uncle and site of several deaths back in the Roaring Twenties, discloses a hidden room to the two intrepid remodelers. Inside the locked room sits the leathery body with a companion -- a recently killed companion. They recognize the fresh corpse as that of a much-despised real estate speculator who Ellie's husband threatened vociferously in the corner pub. Now the friends must prove Ellie's husband innocent -- by finding someone else guilty.
To complicate things, a dear friend and protector from Jake's misspent youth faces federal charges, and he names Jake as a witness. If the Feds look at Jake, they may also see her father -- a law-breaker and fugitive. She must find a way to protect both men and herself.
The cast of quirky, flawed and unique characters include Jake's rock-solid husband and her ex-husband, the philandering brain surgeon who moved into the area to be near their son, Sam. Sam lives with his mother and strives to make a life for himself after drug rehab. Add to the mix Ellie, pregnant with her first child; Ellie's husband struggling to pay the bills; his friend Will who came to town to care for his senile aunt and a historical society filled with colorful characters. The plot explodes with suspenseful and humorous possibilities.
The author plays with the old gothic clichés of locked rooms, dark Victorian mansions, and purely evil villains who victimize virginal, powerless women. She adds humor and a totally modern twist featuring a hammer-and-saw-wielding heroine who supplies remodeling tips.
Graves forms a connection between Jake and readers, which often feels more like a conversation than a book. I apologize for my initial low expectations for this series. I look forward to catching up on the previous books while awaiting the follow-up to Mallets Aforethought. The cliché holds true, you can't tell a book by its cover -- or its title.
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