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by Marian Babson
Thomas Dunne Books, August 2003
208 pages
ISBN: 0312284977

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dame Cecile Savoy, doyenne of the British stage, has donned her widow's weeds, heartbroken over the demise of her long-beloved pet, a Peke named Fleur de Lys. As if this isn't drama enough, she decrees that her former furry companion be preserved forever as a sign of Cecile's devotion -- and because Fleur had always been her good luck charm (actors are a tad superstitious).

Swirling about dressed in black, she insists that her best friends and fellow thespians Trixie and Evangeline, accompany her to poor Fleur's next resting place. Although Cecile's weeping and wailing are over the top, even for two veteran actresses, they agree to go and summon their driver, Eddie, who innocently asks: "Where to? The pet cemetery?" Dame Cecile responds in a booming voice: "No, Stuff Yours!"

The stunned Eddie recovers from this unladylike response when Cecile informs him that this is their destination: the taxidermy shop. She has arranged to have little Fleur with her for all time (thus extending the good luck aspect) and Stuff Yours! has agreed to do the honors. Cecile weeps, Evangeline smirks, Trixie sighs, and Eddie steps on the gas and they're all on their way.

Thus begins another of Marian Babson's hilarious murder mysteries featuring the return of Trixie and Evangeline, aging but able actresses who are taking a break as they wait for a new play that is being written just for them. Meanwhile, they are acolytes to the whims of Dame Cecile and not crazy about their first visit to a taxidermist. Trixie is the sensible, cautious type who prefers tea, cats and the quiet life. Evangeline is more cynical and notices that the shop is a lot more quiet than it should be, even for a place filled with a silent zoo where all the inmates are so lifelike.

Trixie the cat-lover sees a remarkable but heartbreaking specimen near a cage, labeled Cho-Cho San and sees a list of 'mounting instructions.' Her heart sinking fast, she looks into the Japanese bobcat's lovely amber eyes which suddenly blink, as the cat emits a friendly meow-p! Alive! Yet, how can that be?

Eddie runs in from the back of the shop in panic, stuttering something about the owner being flat out dead on the floor, and . . . what is that horrible smell? Soon the acrid odor of smoke fills the air. Someone has set the place on fire!

Cecile begins to shriek "oh, my poor Fleur!" as Evangeline shoves her out the door forcing her to drop her cloak and the empty pet-carrier. Trixie realizes that Cho-Cho San needs rescuing and poor Fleur is past it, so she hides the bobtail in the carrier and flings the coat over, dashing back to the car. Cecile thinking Trixie has saved her darling, pulls off the cloak, and sees the cat staring back at her. It gives a little chirp. She realizes this is not her Fleur. This cat is not even a dog.

This opening chapter sets the stage for the madcap adventures to come. Trixie plays the major role among the scattered denizens of the West End, and has to contends not only with a mad actress, feuding family members, a missing play and a dead housekeeper, but is also determined to root out the horrible person who would put a cat in harm's way.

Despite a touch of grimness in the opening, this is a very funny book, and one of Babson's best -- a good way to end a busy day, while soaking in a warm bubble bath.

Reviewed by Tess Allegra, January 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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