Friday, September 13, 2013

Hollywood Glamour, With Murder: Cheryl Crane, THE DEAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL

This is Cheryl Crane's third Nikki Harper mystery, and once again this Hollywood-raised author (she is Lana Turner's daughter) proves she knows how to braid chic, performer-style high life with a tightly paced amateur detection plot. Nikki Harper, a real estate salesperson (like the author!), knows how to flash "the smile" as needed in social and business moments, taught by her amazing mother, actress Victoria Bordeaux. But Nikki's not just a pretty face on a trim body dressed in classic fashion -- she's hard-working, determined, curious, and above all, loyal to her friends.

Which explains why Nikki tackles trying to prove that drably garbed Alison, the sister of one of her friends, shouldn't be a suspect when one of Alison's dog-owning clients is found dead. To untangle the half-truths and outright lies around her, Nikki delves into the show-business record of four actors who'd been Disney child stars ... and whose adult lives are still very, very close. Too close to be healthy, perhaps.

Crane's mysteries have become one of my annual treats, a reliable evening of entertainment spiced with wit, compassion, and courage in just the right doses. I'd love to have a BFF like Nikki (well, actually I have two, although they don't have her outfits). She balances "beautiful people" with smart ones, and when things get tough, she has the good sense to trust her mother's long experience for advice and insight. There's a lot of gentle and generous humor in Crane's murder mysteries, too. Take this conversation between Nikki and her mother Victoria, with Nikki asking her mom to help snag a pair of tickets to an appearance by the Dalai Lama (as a thank-you to a source), and hearing her mother's take on what the Buddhist leader is up to:
"His Holiness is busy ... doing whatever it is that a Lama does. ... He's reached enlightenment. He cant be reincarnated as a fly or a beetle."

Nikki couldn't resist a chuckle. "Mother, how do you know about Buddhist Lamas?"

"Well, Richard, of course."


"Heavens, I don't remember his name. He was in that sweet film where Julia Roberts played the prostitute."

"Richard Gere?"

"That's him. ..." Victoria paused and then went on. "I'm not friends with the Dalai Lama, but I've met him. When I was in India, years ago. He was very kind. He had a pleasant smile. And he knew who I was ... though I can't imagine he would have seen any of my films," she mused.
Quick action, Hollywood gossip, strong friendships, smart detecting, and oh yes, well-managed dogs and reliable friends and family -- what's not to like in a Cheryl Crane book? THE DEAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL was scheduled for September release but it wriggled out a big early, at the end of the summer. You don't need to read the other two Nikki Harper mysteries first (The Bad Always Die Twice and Imitation of Death), and I do think Crane is getting better with each book in a very satisfying way, but you still might want the others once you have this one. It's a series with a lot of fun in an upbeat, fresh, savvy way, and deserves to be well known. And it will make terrific holiday gifting, too.

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