Alicia Allen is a half-Italian, half-British lawyer in her late twenties, living in London. One of her new neighbors, a model with whom she is friendly, is murdered before she can collect her first paycheck at a “hostess” club. Alicia gets involved in the investigation, hijinks ensue, mysteries tangle and untangle, love connections are made and doubted.
The premise has potential, and I enjoyed the plot basically, and I wanted to like it, but I just didn’t.
There’s lots of telling rather than showing. There is a lot of time spent on telephones: Alicia checks her phone for messages, misses calls when she’s at the gym, hears her phone ringing on the nightstand, and/or notices that there are missed calls on her cordless telephone, etc. At least once, a phone call is interrupted by another phone call: “My mobile started to ring and it was interfering with the reception on my main phone and I turned it off.” By page 50, I wanted to do a find/replace on every instance of the word “phone.”
And on that note, most sentences are direct observations: subject, verb. I did this. Then I did that. I was worried. I was confused. She seemed nervous. I changed the subject. At one point she describes a man: “There was something mysterious about him that was impossible to describe.” You are writing a fiction book in first person! TRY to describe it! Consider this scene at a restaurant: “I ordered a bottle of Chardonnay and we ordered our food.” There’s just no need to tell the readers the exact timing of her food order, or really, that she ordered food at all, and there’s no reason to use the word “ordered” twice in the same sentence. So there’s a feeling throughout of being bogged down in minutiae–we see every step of Alicia’s sandwich-making process, walk with her through every office task that prevents her from answering her voicemail. It ends up feeling a bit tedious for a murder mystery.
There’s also lots of unrealistic-sounding dialogue, or dialogue padded with exposition. For instance, early on, the murder victim Tammy has come home at 4 am to wake Alicia up after a violent incident at her workplace, the Club. As she’s describing the night to Alicia (at four am, while bleeding), she describes someone at the Club thusly:
“…she was wearing a fabulous long black sequined dress which was sleeveless, low cut, and with a side split.”
No one talks like that at 4 am, while bleeding in their neighbor’s flat, after they’ve just quit their job at a gentleman’s club. Or if they do talk like that, there should be a character-driven reason. Like, maybe this shows how Tammy’s really, really into sequins or how her love of glamour makes her overlook her own physical pain, or maybe the side slit fell open to reveal the future murder weapon or something.
The Italian aspect is featured heavily and, for the most part, I thought, done pretty well. The thing that bugged me at first were the male characters who were stereotypically gorgeous, good cooks, winked a lot, listened to Italian operas on the regular, and were all totally into our heroine, although she refuses to date any them. It was a little pat, but they grew on me by the end.
There were a lot of good female relationships! I thought the friendships were pretty realistic, and I liked how many types of women were in the story. That said, there were also a lot of uncomfortable and, I thought, unrealistic portrayals of women in conflict with each other, too–the models at the agency give each other withering looks just because they are auditioning for the same role. When she goes to a party, woman after woman makes snide remarks to her face about her looks and possible romantic connections. Do these things happen in real life? Maybe they do, somewhere, but they’ve never happened to me or my friends. Each instance of female rivalry seemed overwrought and therefore fake, and it’s too bad that a story with such a wide variety of female characters, and other nice female relationships, fell into the trap of what felt like paint-by-numbers catfights.
I was genuinely curious about how each character was involved in the murder, and it wrapped up succinctly and tied up the loose ends. My pet peeves with the style just overwhelmed my enjoyment of the plot. I’ll admit that this book suffered by comparison–the last murder mystery I read was also about a model, and it was great. So I tried to read this one as un-biasedly as possible. But it just didn’t do it for me.
(Half cannonball! Only 26 more to go…!)