This is book one in the Vintage Clothing series, and I was intrigued by the review of it here last month by sistercoyote to request a copy from the library. It’s a cozy mystery set in Portland, Oregon with Joanna Hayworth as the main character. She owns a vintage clothing store (hence the series name) and she herself is portrayed as someone who would rather live in the past. She only wears vintage, her music collection is vinyl, she doesn’t own a cell phone, and eschews the electronic devices that we all can’t live without these days. She even did all of her papers in college on an old typewriter, using erasable paper; in some ways she comes across as rather tiresome about this and I guess you could call her a Luddite. I think if she could’ve been teleported back to the 1950s, she would have been a happy camper (but this isn’t that kind of book!).
Her shop is called Tallulah’s Closet, and she gathers her clothing from various sales, auctions and private contributions. One of her regulars, Marnie, offers a jacket by Lanvin that Joanna is happy to take off her hands. Marnie is an elderly woman who used to be a showgirl, so she has a lot of interesting items to sell to support herself. As Joanna is wrangling the jacket onto a mannequin, the lining rips and a small key falls out. Before she can do anything with it, Marnie calls back in a panic to request the jacket back. Joanna can’t leave the shop to return it immediately, and Marnie agrees to wait until the next day to pick it up. The next day comes and goes, but Marnie doesn’t show up. That is, until Joanna opens the shop the day after that and discovers Marnie dead on the floor, with the jacket laid over her.
This is where the story starts to go off the rails and gets too convoluted. The police are somewhat slow on the uptake – while the death is natural, the shop wasn’t where she expired. Someone moved the body and covered it. Joanna tells them about the safety deposit box key and they brush it off. They don’t take the coat into evidence either, and it gets sold to someone else who ends up getting assaulted. The coat returns to the shop, and shortly thereafter is stolen, presumably by someone looking for the key. During this, Joanna gets in touch with some of Marnie’s old friends to organize a memorial service, along with having her locks changed by a cute guy who shows interest in her. There’s a side story with a rival store owner that wants to open up another shop in the same area as Joanna that really goes nowhere except to add unnecessary drama. The suspects and red herrings start to pile up, another person is found murdered and Joanna takes it upon herself to solve the crime. I was rolling my eyes when she decides to learn how to pick a lock just by watching her hot handyman open a locked suitcase, and plans to sneak on board a boat dressed in a black dress and sandals – reading Nancy Drew when she was younger prepared her for this sort of caper.
I did enjoy the descriptions of the vintage clothing, but that became secondary to my confusion over what the author was trying to do with the plot. By the end, which seemed a bit rushed and anti-climactic, there were too many unresolved issues that left me frustrated. Joanna “adopted” a cat and a dog from the two dead victims and yet spent very little time with them (I have two dogs, they require a lot of attention!); she seemed to have some issues with sexual intimacy that isn’t explained, only hinted at; and she found correspondence between her grandmother and Marnie that was never explained either. Maybe some of these will be dealt with in the next book, but I fear they won’t.