Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Paper, Scissors, Death (Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-n-Craft Mystery #1), by Joanna Campbell Slan

Luminary LLC, 2020 (original publication September 2008)

Kiki Lowenstein is married to a very successful businessman, mother of an eleven-year-old girl named Anya, and an enthusiastic scrapbooking hobbyist. She's good enough that Dodie, the owner of her favorite scrapbooking shop has tried a couple of times to recruit her to teach classes.

Then her husband, George, is found dead in a hotel room, apparently of a heart attack. And yet, the circumstances are strange. He'd just had a full medical exam that found him completely healthy, including no signs of heart trouble. The housekeeper who found him seems to have left the area. He was seen earlier in the day in a high-end restaurant, with two young women.

It gets worse. George has apparently "borrowed" a half million dollars from the real estate development company he was a partner in. His life insurance goes not to Kiki, but to his mother, Sheila, who loves Anya, but intensely dislikes Kiki. Kiki has to sell their house just to pay back the money George owed to the firm, and be able to move to much more modest, even slightly edgy, neighborhood. (Somewhere during this process she impulsively adopts a rescue Great Dane puppy, whom she names Gracie.) And there's still the question of how George really died, and who the two young women were.

Kiki finally takes that job teaching scrapbooking, and starts learning more about her husband and his activities from the women who were once her neighbors and are now her scrapbooking students and clients. She's also doing some supplementary dog-sitting, for extra income from her former housekeeper's other business. The housekeeper/dogsitter, Mert, has become a good friend, and she's smart and clever, and helps Kiki find more information, too.

It is, of course, sadly predictable that Gracie, being a big dog and a rescue, is perfect, and the little dogs Kiki sits for Mert are, at best, comic relief. The two chihuahuas are described as "useless," and are clearly untrained. The Pomeranian, is treated like a doll by her owner, and by Anya, with an extensive wardrobe of "cute" clothes that a Pomeranian in a Missouri summer has no need of. (Yes, dogs sometimes need clothes, and a little dog like a Pom, even with all that hair, likely needs clothes in a Missouri winter. That's not what's happening here; it's all about using the little dogs and their never-seen owners as comic relief.) (Why, yes, I do have a small dog! She's an eleven-pound Powderpuff Chinese Crested, sitting with me as I type. She's also my service dog, and better behaved than either most of the kids we encounter, or many of the big dogs we meet.)

I do like Kiki, and a number of the other characters, including Mert and Dodie, are likable and interesting. My crankiness about the little dogs being used as comic relief aside, though, there are other problems. Kiki is at one point verbally told by her new landlord that he's evicting her. She never gets a written notice. Is Missouri one of those states where tenants have zero rights? Also, Kiki never gets around to telling anyone until all the other excitement is over. Even given her acknowledged passivity that she struggles against, that's just bizarre. If tenants have no rights, or if Kiki just isn't going to fight it, she has to have a new place to move by the end of the month. She's overly passive at first, but waiting and risking having no place to go when her stuff gets put out on the street, is beyond passive, and not consistent with how Kiki behaves otherwise.

On the plus side, though, Kiki no only gradually gets smarter about what questions she's asking about what's really going on; she also gains confidence in herself through the success of her scrapbooking classes and commissions. This is the first book in the series, and I'm sure the Kiki of subsequent books is stronger and more confident, because that groundwork has been laid.

So I have mixed feelings about this book. I like the characters, and the story overall is good, but there are some irritating aspects. However, all the dogs who appear in the book are alive at the end, so that's a plus!

I bought this book.

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