Death Swatch: A Scrapbooking Mystery
by Laura Childs
Review by Harriet Klausner
Berkley Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425224786
Date: 02 September 2008 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It has been three years since Katrina drowned New Orleans, but slowly the city is coming back to life especially the French Quarter where residents have returned to work and are slipping back into their lives. The symbol is Mardi Gras with the sights, sounds and smells as if Katrina never happened. Scrapbook store owner Carmela Bertrand knows she will never forget the devastating hurricane, but reopening Memory Mine and plans to ride on her group's float in the parade on the last day of Mardi Gras lifts her spirits.
Carmela attends a party with her pal Ava, owner of a voodoo shop, hosted by her friend Jekyl Hardy. The two women meet Jekyl's buddy float designer Archie Baudier, a quintessential Southern gentleman. Carmela enjoys the party, but as she is leaving she finds the body of Archie with a garrote of barbed wire around his neck.
Carmela's shows her friend a coin found on the balcony; Archie was a coin collector and was seeking the treasure of the pirate Lafitte that many believe is an urban legend. Jekyl asks Carmela to investigate the homicide as she has done successfully before.
Carmela begins her inquiry with the help of Ava. They search the apartments of Jekyl and Archie until she finds a secret compartment where the dead man's coins were stashed. She soon learns he is an absinthe drinker, which lead her to dealer Miguez, who says he is leaving the business because the Russian is taking over. The Russian is a vampire wannabe who will probably be attending the Vampire Danse Soiree. There they meet Vassily who knows about Archie's death and the coins. At Archie's funeral, the female sleuths find a clue that leads to a plantation where they obtain another clue that takes them to Queen Bess Island. From there the clues lead to danger as the killer awaits the opportunity of getting Carmela alone and taking care of business.
Eerily the post Katrina background lends a gothic atmosphere to Death Swatch, a compelling cerebral amateur sleuth tale that implies throughout the question asked of the Federal and State governments where's the Marshall Plan for New Orleans.
Carmela assumes that finding what Archie was seeking will lead to solving the case. She is interested in who disliked him as a person, but more so who were his rivals either in taking absinthe or in treasure hunting. The heroine is fascinated with the Lafitte legend, but has no interest in searching for the alleged buried loot. Carmela is stronger now than she was before the hurricane as she refuses to allow her almost ex-husband to bully or sweet talk her into doing his desires. As for their divorce proceedings, she wants more from their settlement than the pittance he offers especially since he can afford it. Her experience with Shamus leaves her wary of men, but there is one male who she likes and might be willing to take a second chance at love with him. Working the case adds to her overall self esteem that at one time was more broken than a breached levee, but now she soars with a "I Am Woman" confidence.
The whodunit is cleverly designed to have the heroine and her buddy hopping around uncovering a clue that takes them to the next step on their investigation. Getting to the climax is fun, as Laura Childs is a superb cozy storyteller with this series and her Tea Shop mysteries. The Scrapbooking whodunits are engaging puzzlers (see Frill Kill) and though scrapbook tips and recipes are an obvious gimmick, they add to the understanding of how Carmela thinks. With a fabulous climatic shocker, fans will enjoy the post Katrina Mardi Gras hosted by Carmela.