Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review: One Dangerous Lady

One Dangerous Lady by Jane Stanton Hitchcock
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Number title for Triple 8 Challenge; enjoyed her previous book

Description: Jo Slater returns in a dazzling new story of passion, money, and murder. Jo is in Barbados, preoccupied by the notion of a new romance with a dashing English lord, when Russell Cole, a fabulously wealthy art collector, disappears from his yacht. Jo suspects that Russell's wife Carla knows a great deal more about her husband's disappearance than she is letting on. Back in New York, Jo discovers that a figure from her own past continues to put her at great risk and that neither the urbane lord nor her missing friend's wife are what they appear to be.

First line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a widow in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband."

My thoughts: Honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned wit seems to sometimes be in short supply these days, but Jane Stanton Hitchcock's got it. Here are a couple of examples:

"I admire you...You have principles. Fortunately, I gave mine up for Lent in 1975."

"Money's the only thing that really talks in this town."
"I understand. And I wish it would shut up for once."

And a particularly over-the-top decorating style is described as "Rococo-a-gogo."

I must say, though, that at some points I found myself thinking how exhausting it must be to have to work at one's position in society all the time. The thought "These women should get actual jobs!" crossed my mind several times, as it all seems so pointless, devoting their energy to surface trappings. Even the charities they throw events for are only an excuse to dress up and gossip. I'm still really quite fascinated by New York society and would, of course, love to be fabulously wealthy, but I don't know if I could handle being a lady who lunches - it sounds like way more work than it's worth.

Jo at least tries to contribute her time to valuable enterprises, like her beloved Municipal Museum. She's been through a lot but still makes every effort to be classy, socially correct, and loyal to her friends. Those friends are well-drawn, too, and they're sources of both support and exasperation to Jo. There's Betty, who tells it like it is and wears whatever she pleases even if it's an orange dress with a green collar that makes her look like a carrot, and June, who can't stand not to be invited to things and sees herself as a grande dame, even if no-one else does. And on the non-friend front, Carla Cole is a consummate villainess - charming and cool on the surface, ruthless and rather crazy inside.

I didn't really realize this was a sequel to the author's Social Crimes until I was partway in. I enjoyed Social Crimes about four years ago, but couldn't quite recall all the details, which was a bit annoying as the events in that book are referred to throughout One Dangerous Lady but aren't fully explained until near the end. I recommend these witty, high-society murder mysteries, but make a mini-spree of it and read the two in order and close together for maximum enjoyment.

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