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by Mollie Cox Bryan
Midnight Ink, May 2019
336 pages
ISBN: 0738758698

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Charlotte Donovan spies Justine Turner sitting at a booth in the tearoom and moves to join her boss for a suddenly called meeting. Unnaturally still, the well-known biographer doesn't notice her assistant right away and when she does, Charlotte asks if she is upset. Justine's response is that her work on the Harlow book seems to have attracted "all the kooks." Concerned about Justine's strange state, Charlotte hurries to the ladies' room, finds and wets a linen towel with cold water, returns to the booth and applies it to Justine's forehead. The waiter approaches, sees the writer sitting motionless, quickly closes off the booth and feels for a pulse. Finding none he instructs another server to call the authorities.

This somewhat quirky read mixes stories from Hollywood in the 1930s with interesting contemporary twists. As Charlotte is leaving the crime scene, she sees a Jean Harlow look-alike so real that it startles her, causing her to wonder about the "kooks" Justine referred to before her death. In short order, the detective on the case, Sergeant Den Brophy, discovers from the security tapes that the man who sat at Justine's table dropped something in her tea when she was distracted.

Eleven years earlier Justine had taken Charlotte under her wing as an intern and taught her "everything I know about writing, researching and pulling together a book" so now Charlotte is determined to find the killer. The list of suspects includes competitors and collectors who are convinced Justine was sitting on a treasure trove of memorabilia from stars like Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. At Justine's memorial service, it is announced that Charlotte will complete the Jean Harlow biography. Then, Charlotte is threatened by Chad Waters who swears Justine intended to sell him Jean Harlow's sapphire ring, a gift from William Powell, and he knows Charlotte must now have the ring.

As she works on finishing the book, Charlotte discovers new information about Jean Harlow's family that provides clues to both murders. Mollie Cox Bryan concocts a fascinating mystery with more twists than a pretzel factory. Bryan's skillful portrayal of Charlotte and best friend Kate make it fun to follow them as they work through to the solution. An entertaining read, a steady pace, and memorable characters to meet.

§ Ruth Castleberry has worked as an investigator for Pinkerton’s, a city desk assistant on the Charlotte News, free-lance writer, marketing/business strategy consultant, competitive intelligence practitioner and digital marketing consultant.

Reviewed by Ruth Castleberry, December 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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