Diane Vallere uses fashion brilliantly to show character. She understands its place in culture and history. And she uses it to plant clues. I’m not a fashionista—more the opposite—but I loved getting immersed in Samantha Kidd’s personal and professional world of style. She’s a feisty, funny, independent protagonist, determined to help a friend. Vallere successfully sustains the plausibility of the amateur sleuth when Samantha’s good friend and former colleague Eddie becomes a possible suspect for a fashion-related murder at a museum where he’s in change of an exhibit featuring the hat collection of a famous neo-noire actress. The crimes to be solved include hat theft as well as murder and attempted murder.
The author strikes a good balance between humor and mystery, with a touch of romance. The characters and their relationships as well as the well-planted red herrings the kept me so involved, the pace never slowed down and I didn’t figure out whodunit until Samantha did.
This is the third book in the Style and Error series. Vallere handles backstory so smoothly a reader could begin here and feel neither lost nor bogged down in catch-up details, but I recommend going back to the beginning and getting to know Samantha from the start.
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Samantha Kidd leaves her sixty-hour-a-week job as a buyer for a major New York store to work as a trend specialist for a store in her old home town. Her first day on the job, things start going wrong. Within minutes, she sees her new boss lying dead in an elevator. In a light mystery like this, the author has to walk a fine line between trivializing death and loss, and writing humor around it rather than about it. Samantha’s reaction to her boss’s death is human, appropriate for the level of connection she had to him. It’s an effective beginning which made me care about both the main character and the mystery.
As a narrator, she’s likeable and energetic, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Her personal story is engaging—in one career move she is both starting over and coming home. She’s better cut out for being a trend expert than a detective, but her motive for trying to take on that role is solid. It would be a spoiler if I told you more, but she couldn’t possibly have a higher personal stake. In an amateur sleuth story, I find it more believable when the amateur is highly motivated like this, and when she isn’t always good at detecting—doesn’t completely outsmart the professionals. In her determined effort figure out who committed the crime and why, Samantha makes progress but also misses major clues and makes a few near-fatal mistakes.
Though a couple of details in the final resolution of the mystery stretched my suspension of disbelief, the plot kept me turning pages, curious what would happen next. I was rooting for Samantha to notice those clues she overlooked. Even though I’d picked up on them, I still didn’t know whodunit, only that these things were clues to something. Overall, this book is tightly crafted. The characters are colorful but not caricatured, and the romance subplot shows promise for the series. I enjoyed the setting in the fashion industry. It’s fun when a protagonist has profession about which I was previously ignorant, and I learn something about it in the course of the story. A cozy mystery with good characters is like a well-made dessert with quality ingredients. Indulge yourself in this one: it’s a delightful treat.