It’s the 1950’s in Santa Lucia, California, and the height of the social season. Time for the new Miss Santa Lucia, Nora Burbank, to display her loveliness at a high society fashion show produced by the city’s own fashionistas–Margot and Daphne, owners of Poppy Cove, the most elegant and “in” little dress shop in the county.
Nora steals the show in her designer gown and custom-made necklace created by local jeweler Isaac Mendelson, and used on the sly by his apprentice son-in-law, Efrem Goldberg. At the conclusion of the show, the young queen is allowed to keep her dress and a replica of the necklace for her own. But Monday morning, Efrem arrives in a panic at Poppy Cove to beg Margot and Daphne’s assistance in tracking down the real necklace, which he believes was inadvertently switched for the replica backstage. The girls get involved in Efrem’s dilemma and try to help him before Isaac’s any the wiser. But before that can happen, Miss Santa Lucia is found dead in her bed and the necklace is missing.
Who killed Nora Burbank? Is it someone jealous of her new royal position and all of its perks? Or did she just happen to be in the way when a thief attempted to steal her diamond-studded necklace? Did Nora have the real or the fake necklace, and how much did the thief and murderer know about it? But, of course, before the girls can find the killer, they’ll have to create several beautiful ensembles, calm numerous irate clients, and flirt with their ever-so-attentive boyfriends, before solving this mystery.
Who knew cozy mysteries were around in the 50's? Well, they probably weren't called that back then, but Barbara Jean Coast (aka Andrea and Heather) have certainly channeled that time period for us in their book Death of a Beauty Queen. The clothes, the settings, the manners - you name the attribute and it is here. Like Happy Days amongst the posh social classes.
The descriptions of the fashions are detailed and enable readers to 'see' the dresses and separates if they put their minds to it. And indeed, I grew up wearing little white gloves to church on Easter Sunday, etc. (Not that we were ever posh, but those folks set the style back then and they wore gloves for just about any occasion.) These days, I'm just as happy in sweats and a tee shirt as 'Sunday-go-to-meetin'' clothes, but I do enjoy fashion history. And let's face it...the clothes then looked like clothes and were made of fabric. These days a lot of haute couture looks more like costumes and you never know of what an outfit will be made (need I mention Lady Gaga).
Daphne and Margot are very likeable main characters and incredibly loyal to their friends. I also like the time, care and customer service they (and their staff) put into their business, Poppy Cove. Many the ladies of that era (of any era, really) would love to work at such a dress shop and be able to wear the fashions home - as a form of merchandising. I might even be tempted to wear 'posh frocks' more often if I were on the staff.
There are plenty of surprises to go around. I, for one, did not get all the familial relationships nailed down until they were explained in the course of the story. And I did not realize the culprit until Margot's dream, which for those of you who have not picked up this gem yet will not know is pretty far along in the book.
The one almost completely unsympathetic character was Mary Anne, the first runner-up. You know the line, "If for any reason Miss *** cannot complete her reign....," which gives her quite the motive for killing Nora (the victim). Most people might tend to write that off, really, if not for Mary Anne's absolutely tacky attitude. But it's hard not to grin at her 'disposition' (outcome, not manners) at the end.
Death of a Beauty Queen is a romp through a time period that many readers will still remember from their childhoods. Folks really into fashion will also enjoy the clothes and accessories. If Austen ever wrote about greed and murder, I imagine it would come out something like Coast's book.
Andrea always imagined herself being a supersleuth girl detective and writing adventurous stories, full of mystery and intrigue since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She resides in Kelowna, BC, Canada, where she writes under the pen name of Barbara Jean Coast with her co-author friend, Heather Shkuratoff, and travels often to California to further develop the stories and escapades of the Poppy Cove Mystery Series. Andrea has also published freelance articles about fashion, current events, and childcare, and is currently blogging on WordPress about creativity and poetry, as well as researching for her own literary novels.
As an avid mystery reader, Heather joined lifelong friend Andrea Taylor to create the Poppy Cove Mystery Series, written under the pen name of Barbara Jean Coast. Growing up in a family of talented crafters and sewers, Heather developed her own skills to become a dressmaker and designer, which helps to give rich detail and character to their stories. She lives in Kelowna, BC, Canada, but spends much time in California, researching for the novels and doing her best to live like Barbara Jean.
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(Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book from the authors and publishers via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)