"The Diva Takes the Cake" by Krista Davis Berkley Prime Crime, 309 pp., $6.99 (paperback only) Reviewed by David Marshall James Krista Davis's fledgling mystery series (this is the second volume) doesn't have a moniker, although it could be dubbed "Leave it to Diva," with visions of a perfectly pressed and preened Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver) in mind. Flash-forward forty-- no, fifty (yikes!)-- years to historic Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, where a TV "domestic diva," Natasha Smith, resides down the block from an event planner and newspaper advice columnist, Sophie Winston. Who knew two divas could dwell in such close proximity without murdering one another with pinking shears, or at least blistering one another with hot-glue guns? Not that Sophie wouldn't mind stuffing a topiary up the imperious, officious, and buttinskified Natasha's ice sculptures, but Sophie's a tolerant, tongue-holding, good sport (she'd have to be, given that Natasha has taken up with Sophie's former husband, Mars). Besides which, there's a corpse dangling from the pergola in Natasha's backyard, and that overextends the violence quota for the volatile pair's near-vicinity. The murder unfortunately ties into the events surrounding Sophie's sister's-- Hannah's-- wedding and her rather mysterious spouse-to-be. Sophie doesn't care for him; neither do the sisters' parents, who naturally show, with their only grandchild (Sophie's and Hannah's niece) in tow. Moreover, the prospective groom quickly becomes the prime suspect in the murder, as the deceased turns out to be his ex-wife, a tidbit he has conveniently withheld from Hannah. One would think that she would take off at a sprint and not look back till she had crossed the Delaware-- or, at least, the Potomac-- but she's gonna show everyone how right she is and how wrong they are, that her husband-to-be is a fine and honorable man, and blah, blah, blah: "I am Bridezilla, hear me roar." Thus, the wedding weekend plans collapse, yet are revived and revised. Then, they fall apart once more, only to be refashioned. Such on-the-spot flair for extemporaneous organization amidst a surging tide of chaos could only be possible with two divas on the scene. Additionally, more than a few uninvited guests appear, making themselves at home in Sophie's domicile. They include Hannah's ex (a gregarious rogue in a red Porsche) and a fussbudgety professor from across the street who's attached to his pet Pomeranian, literally and figuratively. Natasha puts forth a valiant effort to fix up her Mother with this neighbor/dog, but he seems far more interested in attaining Gladys Cravits-dom. The personages and their attendant personal histories add color and sparkle to the on-again, off-again pre- and post-wedding parties, many of which transpire in Sophie's house and backyard. This "single set" milieu gives the novel a garden-party feel reminiscent of a frothy British stage piece from the '20s or '30s. Davis has devised a delightful romp, with engaging characters and a nicely crafted setting in which to place them. The author sets just the right tone to match her divas' perfect centerpieces, tablescapes, and lighting effects. Indeed, this series carries the potential for such broad appeal that it ought to be in hardback. As Natasha might put it: Never underestimate the presentation factor. * * *
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