Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cheryl Crane, THE BAD ALWAYS DIE TWICE: Clever Twists, Good Characters, Worth Reading!

It's got to be tough being the daughter of a Hollywood legend -- even tougher if you're a lovely blond, and have a "past" that includes killing someone in defense of your famous mom. No, that's not the book's lead character I'm describing; it's the author.

But in THE BAD ALWAYS DIE TWICE (a cute title riff off both James Bond and James M. Cain), Cheryl Crane pulls off a read that's so enjoyable that I'm glad to recommend it. She cleverly positions her protagonist, Nikki Harper, in shoes quite a bit like her own: daughter of a Hollywood star (one who lives with fabulous wealth -- was Crane's mother Lana Turner able to live at the top like that?) and trained from childhood to provide a glowing smile to the public, no matter what emotions surge underneath. And Nikki's a real estate agent, which is Cheryl Crane's current career in Palm Springs, California.

But instead of the child to whom frightening things happened and who a victim of an infamous crime even though she successfully took up a weapon, Nikki Harper has the kind of friends who can help her effectively investigate a death. That is, a double death -- a murder that's happened to a man whose widow was already dating again. And if Nikki can't solve it, she and her real estate partner Jessica are likely to lose their commission -- which in Hollywood is Big Money, indeed.

This is a classic mystery, even though the Hollywood ambience and infamous author history are understandably misleading -- plot twists are clever and make sense, character portraits are deft, the pace is held well. Here's a sample, as Nikki takes to her new sideline as a private investigator:
She waited patiently until the young man in the cheap suit jacket glanced up.

"May I help you?"

Nikki moved in closer, lowering her voice. "I was wondering if you can answer a couple of questions about one of your guests."

"I'm sorry, but we don't reveal the names of celebrities currently staying with us," he replied, a line he'd obviously memorized. ...

That's because no celebrities would stay here, Nikki thought, but she didn't say it. Instead, she gave him the smile. "This isn't exactly a celebrity. And he's ... was  a client of mine."
When the clerk refuses to squeal, insisting that "There's been no murders in the Sunset Tower Hotel, ma'am," Nikki's stumped for a bit. Not to mention upset about being called "ma'am" -- does she really look old enough to be a ma'am?

But because she's polite and patient with just about everyone, a hotel assistant lets her in on what really took place there, and the investigation is off to a good start after all.

And that's the charm of this book: Even with all the luscious distractions of Hollywood life and the gorgeous Victoria Bordeaux (Nikki's famous mother, and smarter than many fans would guess), this high-style real estate agent earns her way to revelations and an eventual surprising solution.

Author Cheryl Crane
I confess, I was skeptical in the first chapter (and at any point where fashion took over the descriptions). After that, I gave in to the pleasure and kept the pages turning. Cheryl Crane knows how to spin a good story. I bet she'll get better, too -- so this first Nikki Harper mystery is worth collecting, as there's already a second on the way.

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