Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cheryl Crane, IMITATION OF DEATH: Hollywood Mystery

Cheryl Crane is almost a distraction from her own books. Daughter of classic actress Lana Turner and actor-restaurateur Josef Stephen Crane, she and her mother also endured a murder trial that took over the news for a long time.

But Crane's writing is pure traditional mystery work, and a satisfying read. IMITATION OF DEATH is the second in her series featuring Hollywood Realtor Nikki Harper, whose famous actress mother can be quite a distraction from both real estate sales and accidental amateur sleuthing. Harper is sensible, savvy, and manages to keep an affectionate partnership with her mother, through all the complications of a job that takes her into the homes of the very wealthy, and her detective efforts that also take her to homes of blue-collar immigrant workers. Of course, there are also the complications that come with her mother Victoria, and Victoria's devoted assistants, like the loyal and handsome Amondo, who just may be more than an ordinary bodyguard. When murder takes place in the adjoining back yard (during a party, of course!), Nikki can't help getting drawn in to protect people she cares about:
By the time Amondo returned with a pair of shoes for Nikki (Bruno Magli vintage black flats, which went fabulously with her sweats and tee) the police had arrived in full force. The alley was full: black-and-white Beverly Hills precinct cars, two ambulances, and several unmarked police cars. Nikki sent Amondo back to the house to retrieve her cell phone and take her dogs out while she remained to answer the police officers' questions ... without giving up any information on Jorge. She needed to talk to him, first. Better yet, she needed to see him. But first, she had to deal with this mess.
Standing up for the Mexican Americans who are essential members of her mother's household, investigating an apparent frame job, and dodging danger, Nikki is an alluring protagonist whose sense of fashion, sense of humor, and sense of what's gone awry are all finely tuned.

And best of all, this series is maturing into a delicious portrait of healthy mother–daughter dynamics, in spite of the crime fiction atmosphere. I enjoy the deftly sketched moments like this one: "Nikki sighed, not quite comfortable with the emotion she heard in her mother's voice. It seemed as if she'd spent half her life trying to get Victoria's attention, but that spotlight, when she found it, was always too intense." Most of the time, these thoughtful asides fit quite nicely with the well-plotted crime-solving that Nikki pursues -- and the friendly affections that Crane portrays serve as a good counterweight to the grim reality of untimely death and racial profiling that Nikki witnesses.

As with Crane's first Nikki Harper novel, The Bad Always Die Twice, I picked up the book because I couldn't resist seeing what Crane would reveal about "her" Hollywood. And then, I just plain fell for the good-hearted characters and the clever twists of plot. Here's an enjoyable book for the bedside table that won't send you into the dark front rooms with a flashlight to check the locks -- but may send you to the kitchen to fix a modest midnight snack, so you can stay up and enjoy a few more chapters. At least, that's how it works at my house -- and at Nikki's!

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