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by Laura Durham
Avon, January 2007
256 pages
ISBN: 0060739088

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

TO LOVE AND TO PERISH is the third in the charming Annabelle Archer mystery series by Washington DC-based wedding coordinator Laura Durham, following the Agatha award-winning BETTER OFF WED and its successor, FOR BETTER OR HEARSE.

An up-and-comer in the cutthroat world of Washington DC wedding planning, Annabelle Archer always keeps her cool when dealing with hot-tempered 'bridezillas'. The same can't be said for Carolyn Crabbe, DC's grande dame of bridal blowouts, who has a reputation for reducing both her employees and her fellow planners to tears. So Annabelle is shocked but not totally surprised when she finds the professional wedding world's reigning Queen of Mean strangled to death with a bridal veil in a hotel ballroom.

Unfortunately, Annabelle was seen arguing with the deceased just moments before her demise which makes the still-breathing wedding planner a prime suspect. But when a second industry pro is done in, Annabelle realizes she needs to unveil a killer and fast with an able assist from her fabulous best friend and caterer extraordinaire Richard before the life she loves and cherishes is abruptly cut short.

Once again, Durham offers a light-hearted look at the world of wedding planning through the eyes of her endearingly well-meaning but fallible heroine. Annabelle is still a magnet for trouble, given her penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with her faithful friends, caterer Richard and assistant Kate, by her side. (I have to admit by this third installment, Kate's constant butchering of well-known idioms is sliding rapidly from cute to corny, although Durham's ability to come up with new ones is admirable.)

Also around are Annabelle's mystery-loving elderly neighbor Leatrice, Fern the flamboyant hair stylist, and the always exasperated Detective Reese, who along with his new partner is trying to keep Annabelle out of harm's way not to mention his investigations. We get to see the softer, sexier side of Annabelle here, as she's weighing her feelings for Reese against those for the Scots bandsman Ian, whom she met in the second installment of the series.

Amidst all the interpersonal chemistry is a tangible undercurrent of suspense, accompanied by a solidly-drawn mystery story, where the list of suspects, victims and twists of plot grows longer with each page. Durham handles the mix with her usual breezy style, tempered by her in-depth, expert knowledge of both her subject matter and her setting, making TO LOVE AND TO PERISH, like its predecessors, an enjoyable and entertaining read.

Reviewed by J. B. Thompson, May 2007

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