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by Helen & Morna Mulgray
Allison & Busby, April 2008
288 pages
ISBN: 0749079754

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue Office is trying to eliminate a large-scale money-laundering operation in Tenerife. They believe that Ambrose Vanheusen and his real estate company, Exclusive, are the front for this organization. When the officer undercover at Exclusive is murdered, Customs and Revenue must scramble to get another person in. DJ Smith is chosen for this inside job both for her abilities and for her Persian cat. Vanheusen has one weakness – his purebred Persian, Samarkand Black Prince. While Smith’s cat, Gorgonzola, is a good drug-sniffing cat, she is not the smooth and sleek animal a purebred would be. Luckily Vanheusen does not know this, so the cat hairs on Smith’s suit, help win her a place in the company.

Her first assignment with Exclusive is to pick up a group of prospective buyers and plan trips to keep them entertained while they view the houses available. This batch of clients is composed of Victoria Knight, Millie Prentice, Rudyard Scott and Herbert G Wainwright. Overall they are an odd batch of clients and all seem to have secret agendas. Whether or not their secrets involve drug smuggling, money laundering, other illegal activities or are merely harmless remains unknown.

As Smith begins spying on Exclusive and its clients, she finds herself sidetracked by other crimes. One of the clients is murdered and it is discovered that the large amount of money he traveled with is missing. This murder causes Custom and Revenue to step up their investigation. The closer the investigation comes to a resolution, the more danger Smith and Gorgonzola find themselves in. If they do not remain on their toes, Smith could end up dead and Gorgonzola could end up belonging to Vanheusen.

UNDER SUSPICION is an unusual book. It takes a serious topic, money laundering and murder, but treats it in a lighthearted manner. DJ Smith is a perky character, who tends to underplay things and see the lighter side of any situation. Smith is the type who would respond to being trapped in the middle of nowhere and risking death, with a confident ‘no problems, I will do what needs to be done to survive'. This approach to topics that other books frequently over-dramatize is refreshing. While there are some character traits that would be frustrating to read about frequently, DJ Smith does provide a pleasant break with reality.

While I would not necessarily categorize UNDER SUSPICION as a cozy, it has a lot of characteristics of this sub-genre. There is DJ Smith’s behavior as discussed above, but also Customs and Revenue has a rather laidback approach to this investigation. Unlike the FBI, CIA, Secret Service or other high-risk organization, Customs and Revenue does not have the same level of stress or pulse-quickening action. By not responding to stress and by failing to follow secure procedures, Smith’s undercover work and that of Customs and Revenue seem like the actions of amateur, busybody detectives rather than trained professionals. Added to this is the fact that the limited violence occurs ‘off scene’ or is glossed over. This approach to violence and crime is one of the main characteristics that make a cozy a cozy. And finally, like many cozies, this book features a cat that helps the good guys solve the crime.

Readers who like cozy mysteries or enjoy entertaining yet off-beat characters or who are looking for a break from reality should enjoy UNDER SUSPICION. Those readers, on the other hand, who do not like cozies, who lose patience with unbelievable actions and situations, fear animals in mysteries, or who prefer their protagonists to be professionals, should probably give it a miss.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, July 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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