Friday, February 11, 2011

Stop Shoveling Snow, Take Time to Chuckle: Barbara Allan, ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF

Dave and I were in New York City about ten days ago and marveled at how tough it's been for city dwellers to deal with snow. The main problem is, there's no place to push it there ... and who keeps snow shovels in their high-rise condo apartments, anyway? We saw heaps of bagged trash lingering on mounds of soiled snow, too. And it was more than a little shivery to read an AP news story yesterday about what's showing up now that the snow is melting: yes, at least three bodies were under it.

With that in mind, the new mystery from "Barbara Allan" -- the husband-and-wife team of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins -- is a fitting antidote to any seasonal blues, putting life into perspective as more than a little crazy, and worth laughing about. ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF, the fifth in the madcap series featuring Brandy Borne, self-described as "thirty-one, bottle blonde, divorced, who came running home last year to live with her bipolar mother," poses one quandary after another. Brandy reveals all, with layers of parenthetical remarks (should we call this meta-fiction?), and plenty of understandable resentments of her unexpected family situation. Not only is she carrying a baby for a friend (yep, surrogate mom), but she has a newly discovered "birth mother" of her own, swimming in money and uninterested in having Brandy damage her social standing.

Add an antiques business to the mother-daughter antics, a bit of hanky-panky over some clocks, and reputations on the line, and the Barbara Allan team has a bubbling stew of mishaps, murders, and motherhood. Plan to shelve this one next to your string of Donald Westlake caper novels or just before Lawrence Block. Here's a short sample:
Mother and I exchanged sickened looks. This type of scam was one of the vilest, preying upon the sentiments of the bereaved at a vulnerable time. Usually, however, the merchandise -- often diamonds or other valuable jewelry -- was authentic, to keep the seller out of trouble. But the scam perpetrated on Mrs. Vancamp had taken another, nasty twist: the merchandise was fake. ...

Mother's manner softened. ... "Luckily, since her eyesight is so bad, I doubt she'll ever be the wiser."

"Unless she tries to sell it," I pointed out.

By the way, the book was scheduled for March release, but the big online retailer has it due out on February 22, and the authors say it's already available somehow. Visiting their website/blog is also a good way to lighten up in midwinter, whether you're watching the city snow melt, preparing to shovel more white wonder in the snowbelts, or thanking your lucky stars you only have a few weeks until it's time to plant your peas (that one's for you, Marsha). And what's the point of life without a generous splash of fun?

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