Mystery Books for Sale

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by Lydia Adamson
Signet, December 2002
185 pages
ISBN: 0451207599

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you've read Lydia Adamson's cat mysteries before, you know what you are in for: a very readable, light, character-driven mystery with at least the mention of a feline or two. This book upholds the tradition.

Alice Nestleton, a woman of a certain age, is on the crosstown bus, heading to a sale at the Eileen Fisher store on Ninth Street. She is occupying herself with "this game on buses, trying to imagine the age, occupation, home life, and general disposition of fellow travelers", in between thinking about two "difficult beaus" and the "new beau (who) was emerging fast. Very fast." Alice has come up with a sketchy life story for a woman on the bus, a woman with a bag full of "belated Christmas presents for her colleagues; maybe she had the flu over the holiday season" and a cat in a carrier. Alice is completely taken aback when this woman, just before getting off the bus, takes a pistol out of the bag full of presents and fires the gun four times. Then she calmly walks away, leaving behind the cat.

Alice is asked by RETRO to look into this bus shooting, because it just may be connected to another shooting (that didn't happen) three years before. RETRO is "essentially a research and investigative unit set up and staffed by the NYPD to investigate important old crimes"; Alice had worked for them before on a series of unsolved murders of cat owners. RETRO is convinced there is a connection between the people on the crosstown M8 and the people on the M14 three years ago, when nobody got shot. There was a cat on the M8; the woman who didn't shoot anyone on the M14 left behind cans of cat food. The other connections are just as tenuous, but the feline factor is what brings Alice (The Cat Woman) Nestleton into the picture.

While Alice is investigating the non-shooting, she is also dealing with the realities of her daily life. There is the new beau, Lester Rawls, and the return of an old beau, Tony Basillio. She has a great new role as "Angela, an old mafia gun moll returning home to settle scores" on the new calbe TV series knockoff of The Sopranos. There is finally enough money so she doesn't have to cat-sit to pay the bills.

Alice begins by looking where RETRO points her, but soon is convinced that the cats are a coincidence. A joking remark by a friend leads to new insights and a new direction. Alice keeps running into frogs. Books about frogs. References to frogs. A live frog in a box. And then there's the cat, Tulip. Who does Tulip belong to? Why does the killer leave Tulip on the bus? How did Tulip get lost in the shuffle at the crime scene?

Alice is a capable woman with lots of life skills. After the obligatory dead ends and blind alleys, red herrings and cryptic clues, she solves the puzzle and gets on with her life. The ending was a surprise to me, but I should have seen it coming.

I'll buy these on the sale table, save them for when I need brain candy with a mystery in it. The plot is a trifle thin, but the characters make up the difference. Again, this is typical of the Adamson's I've read in the past. If you like Adamson, this book will not let you down.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, April 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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