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by Jane Tesh
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2006
238 pages
ISBN: 1590582195

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Madeline Maclin thought she'd left the beauty pageants behind. After a childhood being hauled around like a prize doll and one last flourish in her teens for money, the former Miss Parkland hung up her tiara and hung out her shingle as a private eye. Nobody takes her seriously, least of all her former employer, who is doing his best to sabotage her new business.

However, when the Miss Celosia pageant is vandalized, Madeline is the perfect undercover agent. The coordinator is thrilled to have someone who understands the competition on the case -- far more thrilled than Madeline is to be back. Her sentiments are closer to those of the pageant protesters. Could they be the ones knocking over sets as well as picketing? But then the harassment turns deadly when the beautiful, talented, and universally loathed front-runner is strangled in her dressing room.

In the meantime, Madeline's friend Jerry has inherited a house in Celosia that is rumored to be haunted. Soon after he moves in, he starts claiming that he sees ghosts that have nothing to do with his fake psychic business. Her natural skepticism at war with her feelings for him -- and her loathing of his girlfriend -- Madeline agrees to help out there as well.

I felt that this book is trying a little too hard to be funny sometimes; for example, the whole haunting subplot seemed forced into trying to be slapstick silly, which it never quite achieves. In other ways, it's a very solid and serious plot. When the book focuses on Madeline and her past, it is much stronger. Her frustrations at not being taken seriously, her ambivalence over getting good work vs where it is and the descriptions of the beauty queen world were realistic.

On the whole, A CASE OF IMAGINATION is a competent cozy and the series it starts has promise.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, March 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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