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by Lauren Henderson
Three Rivers Press, September 2002
320 pages
ISBN: 0609808664

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Journalism lost yet another practitioner when Lauren Henderson decided to devote herself full time to the production of mystery fiction and the creating of disreputable adventures for her heroine Sam Jones. Henderson worked for an eclectic mix of journals including The New Statesman, Marxism Today, The Observerand Lime Lizard. Sam Jones discovered her first corpse in the 1996 release Dead White Female. The tart noir sculptor/private investigator was not left inactive for long, following her initial enquiry with, in no particular order, The Strawberry Tattoo Freeze My Margarita› The Black Rubber Dress, Too Many Blondes› and Chained

Pretty Boy opens, charmingly enough, with a kinky sex scene. Since her kidnapping during the course of a previous adventure, Sam has insisted her actor boyfriend and she take turns wearing handcuffs. She admits that she is enjoying the most satisfactory sex of her life yet when at her friend Tom's request, she and Hugo visit the village of Lesser Swinfold for New Year celebrations, Sam is overwhelmed by the charms of the pretty boy of the title, he who has scarcely emerged from adolescence, would-be writer Alan. Sam's obvious admiration of Alan rocks the already wobbly relationship she has with Hugo of the perfect bum, so that when a Lesser Swinfoldian is murdered and Tom becomes the prime candidate for the role of murderer Sam is anxious to go back to the village to help her friend.

Accompanied by her sometime assistant Lurch, known to his parents and newly met acquaintances as Kevin, Sam attempts to find out who did to death with her own toolbox. the attractive blonde corpse As a newcomer, Tom, whose vocation to become a teacher had its genesis in a desire to meet sex hungry single mums, is suspected by many of the villagers. Sam unearths a competent woman lawyer to help extricate Tom from his suspectship. Simultaneously, Sam becomes more closely acquainted with Alan's charms as he inadvertently obstructs her murder enquiry. Sam's sculpture project, an exhibition of self propelled metal cockroaches, a subject, like the handcuff sex, inspired by her recent kidnapping, languishes as the metal sculptor indulges herself in detecting.

Lauren Henderson has formulated a good mystery. The brashness of the opening of the novel did not particularly attract me and I found the sex scenes particularly untitillating. Perhaps this is a reflection on my own jaded tastes rather than a criticism of Henderson's enthusiasms. Again, I, who would perhaps fall for mature charms accompanied by a greying beard, found it a little difficult to feel sympathy for Sam's longing for the attractions of the callow Alan - but then, no doubt my own preference for a much more adult lover would be incomprehensible to Lauren Henderson. These quibbles aside, I thought the book a pleasant enough page turner and the humour with which it was spiced a welcome condiment. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the plot lacked some of the overdone convolutions so apparent in the work of many contemporary mystery authors of today.

Note: This is a review of the Australian edition from Arrow released in August 2002..

Reviewed by Denise Wels, August 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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