"Tressed to Kill" by Lila Dare
Berkley Prime Crime, 292 pp., $7.99 (paperback only)
Reviewed by David Marshall James
It's not even summer tourist season in the seaside resort of St. Elizabeth, Georgia, but all heck's bustin' loose.
The town's already in a lather over the proposed construction of a big-box superstore when local grande dame and she-dragon Constance DuBois is slain after a town-hall meeting concerning the controversial commercial building project.
Mme. DuBois is such a terror that the mystery of how she has managed to remain unscathed for so long almost overshadows the question of who finally had the nerve to slay her.
Violetta Terhune, who manages a beauty parlor (and mani-/pedi- and facial salon) out of the downstairs of her Victorian house on the town square, has drawn Constance's ire shortly before her murder and therefore emerges as a prime suspect (forget everyone else she's trampled over).
Indeed, Mme. Du Bois's daughter, Simone-- who seems to be trying out her mother's broomstick for size-- intends to make good on her late mother's threat to put Violetta's shop out of business.
"Miss Vi" has an ironclad support group in her employees: best friend Althea, who administers homemade facial treatments; Stella, the nail specialist; Rachel, a goth-ish high-school intern; and one of Violetta's two daughters, Grace, who has returned home after a brief, messy marriage in Atlanta.
Much to Grace's chagrin, her cheating louse of an ex has also made tracks back to St. Elizabeth, where he's wrangled a job with the police department.
The story is delivered through Grace's point of view, and she's understandably immersed in eliminating her mother from the suspect list while warding off Simone's attempt to close the beauty shop.
Author Lila Dare had established a good premise, fictional locale, and assemblage of characters for her inaugural Southern Beauty Shop mystery.
The action, while appreciably lively, sometimes reaches the frantic zone, tossing credulity to the wind. When the governor of Georgia gets dragged into a nefarious St. Elizabeth incident from decades past, the reader may well wonder how the author is going to tie up all the loose ends.
The answer is that several strands of the story are left hanging. The author shouldn't try to cram four of five plots into one novel. For instance, there could have been a bigger build-up to Constance's death, thereby rendering Vi's predicament more believable. Besides, Althea has a far greater motive for murder, but she is handily dismissed from suspicion.
With some paring down and toning down of the action-- with greater emphasis on the beauty-shop characters and the Southern tone-- this ought to evolve into a top-shelf mystery series.
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