Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dead in the Water by Meredith Cole

Dead in the Water by Meredith Cole (F COL Main)
Reviewed by Jeanne

Lydia McKenzie, detective agency receptionist by day, artist by night, returns in Dead in the Water. Lydia’s new project involves photographing the “ladies of the evening,” showing the toll that life on the streets takes on these women. One woman, Glenda, leaves a message that she needs to talk to Lydia. Thinking that Glenda just wants to borrow money again, Lydia fails to return the call—something she regrets when Glenda turns up dead. Given Glenda’s occupation, Lydia’s not sure the police will give the case the attention it deserves, despite assurances from Detective Romero that he’s doing a thorough investigation. Lydia’s guilt over that unreturned phone call leads her to try to solve the case herself, despite warnings from new boyfriend Jack. Her employers at the detective agency are equally unhappy about her foray into sleuthing but when they’re forced to use Lydia as an agent themselves in order to get the goods on their cousin’s (possibly) philandering husband, they really can’t say much.

The characters are enjoyable. Lydia is an artist with a social conscience, which is how she ends up in these situations. She longs to right wrongs through her art or, barring that, then by investigation. (In the previous book, Posed for Murder, she was using her photographs to bring attention to unsolved murders of young women.) She’s young and a bit na├»ve, but her motives are honorable and her outrage is genuine. Cole does a good job of countering some of Lydia’s arguments with other points of view, giving a sense of dialog to some thorny issues. Also, while the topic is gritty—the sex trade—it’s handled in, shall we say, a family friendly way: ideas not specific acts. It’s thoughtful, not sensational. There are a lot of shades of gray here, with no easy answers.

I was glad to see the D’Angelos back, Mama and sons, as well as Detective Romero and Lydia’s best friend, Georgia. New characters were also well done; one especially is close to my heart. (I’ll give you a hint: he has four feet, whiskers and shares the name of a certain ring-tailed feline of my acquaintance.) I thought the relationship with Jack was handled well, very believable. Jack himself is a more realistic than some fictional beaus, with strengths and weaknesses. There were other standout characters as well: Emmanuel, the cabbie who wants to be a detective, was a nice addition. Young and eager, he’s ready for the adventure he’s seen in movies. Candi, another of Lydia’s models, is upscale, more elegant Lady Chablis.

The writing was a bit more relaxed this time, though the sense of place remained strong. Lydia loves her New York neighborhood, which has more of a community feel rather than the impersonal big city. The sense of food and drink is strong too, especially Mama’s creations! Lydia is a clothes horse on a budget, but Cole is adept at suggesting a style without the name dropping I find annoying. (My objection is based more on the transitory nature of most of the brands and designers. I imagine future readers requiring pages of footnotes detailing the significance of this or that brand.) In fact, that’s one of Cole’s strengths for me: her ability to describe a scene so that I “see” it without bogging down in detail, a snapshot in words, that is entirely appropriate for a photographer heroine.

One thing that I must mention is the way the book’s cover and the opening sentences dovetail. The combination dragged me straight into the story. I’ve never seen it done more chillingly. Very impressive.

While the two books stand alone, if you're like me and like to read series in order, start with Posed for Murder (F COL Main). I look forward to the next book in the series!

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