You would think that after decades of reading, and decades of disappointments, I would have learned that – sometimes – there really is truth to that old saw about a book by its cover. But sometimes you can judge a book! And look at this one! It’s gorgeous!
So the story goes that Mirabelle worked in the offices for the secret service during WWII, though she never went into the field, and now that the war is over she has a job working with a debt collector.A client comes in one day looking to get his money back from a girl who has disappeared and then she turns up dead only something seems hinky about it and meanwhile Mirabelle’s boss is home sick but then he disappears too and then there’s a high-end prostitute who kills her client and they’re all connected to this other woman and also to this priest that Mirabelle and her now-dead lover Jack knew in the war and then he disappears along with the girl who works in the office down the hall from Mirabelle who gets swept into the whole mess and kidnapped and … did I leave anything out? Probably.
Actually, one thing I’m leaving out is the motivation behind it all. There’s a sort of “oh, really?” reveal, when later comes a moment where a character introduces himself – “He walked over to the corner of the room and dramatically pulled off the tarpaulin to reveal” something very exciting. That would have been such a dramatic moment … if the reader didn’t already know all about it. Actually, any of the revelations – like who that girl who owed the money was – were kind of lame.
Mirabelle … She is the epitome of the “I’m not going to tell the police anything because obviously I know far better than they do” kind of detective. She decides that with her training she’s totally qualified to fling herself into the whole thing and get to the bottom of it. She flings caution and common sense (and legality) to the wind and begins breaking into places willy nilly. Of course she appropriates evidence. One suspect/witness tells her so much upon three minutes’ acquaintance and some very awkward questioning that I think my mouth was hanging open for the whole scene – it was absurd.
“I’m not Secret Service any more, Sandor. That was a long time ago. I told you. It’s a different world now.”
Sandor spluttered. “What do you mean: you are not Secret Service? What nonsense is this? After all we’ve been through. Come now!”
Mirabelle lost her composure. “I told you, Sandor. I told you! I work for a debt collection agency. That’s all. And this matter is in the hands of the police. I can refer you to them.”
The only plausible excuse for this kind of interference by a civilian is that the police are either uninterested or incompetent. To use one of my favorite Star Trek quotes, “Sorry – neither.” The cop in charge is not stupid, and he’s working the case(s) as hard anyone could. And all I could think as this woman tromps through crime scenes and flies by the seat of her pants was that if she would only collaborate with the cops everything might resolve more quickly and safely. She finds herself looking for a house somewhere there have been noise complaints – something the police should have the resources to be able to find very quickly.
“We need information, Miss Churchill, but this isn’t a job for amateurs.”
And then the young woman from the office down the hall, Vesta, becomes involved. Where Mirabelle has a modicum of training from the war, Vesta is pure civilian, and struck me as little more than a lamb to the slaughter. She does not volunteer – she is volunteered by Mirabelle. She baffles me, Vesta does. She’s a black woman struggling to succeed in post-war England, and I think she’s supposed to be of Jamaican origins, but she comes off as American South. “‘Ha! You ain’t such a lady after all!’ Vesta teased.”
In the end, terrible things happen that I can’t imagine would have happened if the woman hadn’t been trying to do it all on her own with her even more inexperienced helper. It was completely implausible, and deeply irritating, and when a completely and utterly unnecessary death occurs the book loses any possibility of anything more than a two-star rating.
Chapter headings throughout are taken from many different sources, but these sources are not, as they usually are, given with the quotes. Instead they’re all lumped into one page at the end… so when one chapter is headed “All right then, I’ll go to hell” I was just … confused.
What amazes me is that after so many things go wrong, such horrific things happen – after Mirabelle spends a time bemoaning things like “I’ve failed, she thought miserably. I can’t save anyone, least of all myself. There are corpses everywhere. I’m the kiss of death” … still, at the end she is so pleased with herself that she and Vesta are going into business together. And a whole new series is born. “We got skills”, Vesta states.
Like what? Only screwing things up badly enough that some people get killed, not everyone?
It may not need saying that I had a hard time liking Mirabelle. Part of the reader’s introduction to her is as she avoids paying a fee for using a deck chair … even though it comes to be pretty obvious that she has ample money. The writing is mostly adequate to the task of telling the story, in terms of putting sentences together, but as my attempt at summarizing the plot above may indicate it’s all very confused. There is head-hopping; there is homonym confusion; there are a few really jumbled, slightly disastrous sentences. Overall … not a promising beginning.
One last note – I find it depressing that the only two books I’ve ever seen use my grandmother’s maiden name, Duggan, are this one and another one which was nearly as bad.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.