Monday, March 24, 2008

Pretty Is As Pretty Does

When I moved to California four years ago in April (Gah!), I allowed myself a few weeks "off" before starting my new job. What I didn't plan on was the fact that the movers showed up much later than they originally told us they would (7-10 days my ass). So there I was with a mess of time off, no TV, no computer and no car. It was either read or slit my wrists with a butter knife (because wouldn't you know it, our real knives were on the moving truck).

One of the books I read during this dark time period in my life was Blue Blood, the first Debutante Dropout mystery by Susan McBride. I liked it. It was cute, the mystery was compelling, and I really liked the protagonist. So I've kept up with the series, only to find that each subsequent book has only rated an "eh, it was OK I guess" reaction from me. Unfortunately, Too Pretty To Die (book five) continues to follow that pattern.

Andrea "Andy" Kendricks is a trust fund baby who is a constant disappointment to her rich, upper crust mother, Cissy. She's an artist. She's not married. She buys her clothes at Goodwill, and she makes no effort at all to doll herself up. The only reason she attends a stupid "Pretty Party" is because her society reporter friend, Janet, drags her along. "Pretty Parties" are all the rage among the Dallas elite. You know, get your girlfriends together and get Botox in the comfort of your living room? To say this isn't Andy's scene is an understatement, but who knew the party would turn out to be anything but boring (and pathetic)? In storms Channel 5 anchor woman, Miranda DuBois - her face twitchy and saggy thanks to a botched Botox injection. Miranda blames Dr. Sonja Madhavi for her ruined face, ruined life and ruined career and comes in brandishing a gun. Mayhem ensues, but thankfully no one gets hurt. Andy, feeling sorry for her, takes Miranda home to sleep off her drunk, leaving her safely snoring on the sofa. Andy locks up the house and leaves. So imagine her surprise when Miranda is found dead the next morning and the police are quick to call it suicide. Hey, Miranda might have been a little unhinged, but she was a former beauty queen. Andy might have skipped the debutante ball for herself, but having grown-up in high society circles she knows beauty queens ain't no wimps and they sure as shootin' don't commit suicide.

The main issue here is the main one I've had with the last several books - not enough snooping on Andy's part. Clues and "stuff" seems to fall in her lap, often at the behest of the meddling secondary characters. In this story, that would be Reporter Janet and Mummy Cissy. Andy doesn't take any initiative on her own, which is a problem for a mystery novel - at least as I see it. Andy only snoops after someone twists her arm into doing it. Blah. Also, there are very few bread crumbs here. Half the fun of reading a mystery is trying to figure out who did it, with the author dropping clues and red herrings along the way. Not only don't we have that here, we also don't have nearly enough possible suspects to work with. I kept turning the pages, but by the end I was doing so halfheartedly.

Most of the action takes place in the last 100 pages, which gives the book a bottom-heavy feel. Then there's the stink of what appears to be a love triangle brewing (I might have mentioned a time or two or twenty on this blog how much I loathe love triangles), and my interest really began to wane. It also didn't help matters that I hated the ending, with Cissy barging in behaving like a jackass. The obnoxious mother thing worked well in the first couple of books, but I've steadily grown weary of it, with the final nail getting driven into the coffin during this book's epilogue.

So final verdict? I might be ready to give this series up, especially if my suspicion about a brewing love triangle pans out (I'd say we have 50-50 odds at the moment). Also, I'm finding that McBride's plotting style for the mysteries isn't my cuppa. Less internal dithering, more snooping, and more initiative on the part of the protagonist is generally what works for me and it's not what I've been getting.

Final Grade = C

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