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DESIGNER KNOCKOFF
by Ellen Byerrum
Signet, August 2004
325 pages
$6.50
ISBN: 0451212681


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I hated the beginning of this book. I ask you, who can believe in a Washington, DC reporter named Lacey Smithsonian who is working on a story about a museum? Especially a reporter who just happens to own a stunning black suit that was part of the first collection made by one of the country's most famous designers, Hugh Bentley? A reporter who can look really, really good in it, to boot? I winced at the cuteness of it all; it was all so improbable and strained that I nearly put the book aside. But around page 35 I started to laugh.

I still wish Lacey Smithsonian had another name, but I haven't had this much fun reading a cozy in months. Ellen Byerrum has done some terrific work in this book which is the second in her series. She's captured the snarky voice of Lacey perfectly. For West Wing fans, she sounds almost exactly like Ainsley Hayes with her winning blend of southern charm and biting, sarcastic wit.

In fact, if you think about it after you're done reading the story, you'll recognize a good many television characters who have been renamed and repackaged to fit elegantly into this story. Their voices are familiar and welcome the reader into the story without the necessity of a lot of nasty backstory. We know these pop-culture archetypes already, all we need to know are their new names.

The crowd-pleaser plot revolves around two parallel stories: the first concerns an Appropriations Committee intern who disappears; the second is about a close girlhood friend of Lacey's Aunt Mimi, Gloria Adams, who worked for the fashion baron Hugh Bentley and who went missing in the middle of World War II. Lacey reflects on the large number of women who vanish in Washington every year whose disappearances are never explained, and she decides to find out what happened to both women.

The book moves effortlessly between the two stories as Lacey uses her position as a fashion reporter to dig deeper into the truth. She investigates glamorously, wearing some really wonderful clothes and trying out some adventurous 40's hairstyles. Never before in mystery fiction has the lust a young woman can feel for a pair of shoes been so lovingly chronicled.

Lacey has a boyfriend, Vic, who is mostly out of the picture. Though she worries about the future of their relationship, she flirts shamelessly with her co-worker Tony, an FBI agent called the Undertaker, and Bentley's son Jeffrey who may or may not have been a part of his scheming family's evil plot. The romance is there, but not the sex, a very hard trick to pull off, yet Byerrum makes it seem totally natural.

Both of the plots come to a satisfying conclusion with just enough of a twist to make the book qualify as a good mystery, even if it does include pages of Lacey's fashion tips.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, August 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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