My Mystery Monday Meme offering today is the first book I’ve ever read by Texan Janis Patterson. As a fairly recent recruit to a daily exercise routine, the title resonated with me and I thought right away that this would be a mystery for me. It is full of humour (despite one murder and two attempted murders), and has lots of true-to-life, eccentric characters and red herrings.
Most of the story takes place in an exclusive, Dallas condominium building called Olympus House: “fifteen spacious stories of marble and gilt on Dallas’ Turtle Creek Boulevard [which] housed more than enough real wealth to purchase a small European country or two.” We first encounter Flora Melkiot, an elderly widowed busybody with a slashing wit, and more snobbery than you can possibly imagine in one person. Her uncharitable assessments of people, thankfully, are mostly kept to herself, but she does have a quick and devious mind for sleuthing out information, and an irritating way of insinuating herself into the ensuing police investigation, much to the chagrin of both Detective Ashdown, the detective called to the case, and Rebecca Cloudwebb, a former police detective injured in the line of duty, and now an antiques dealer who witnesses the murder when she delivers Ms. Melkiot’s recent purchase during the exclusive early morning exercise class conducted on the mezzanine of the building by Madame Norina. The members of Madame’s “jewel” class were all residents in the building, and the new owner of four-oh-six couldn’t wait to join them.
Laura Tyler had lived all her life in the tackier part of suburbia and as far back as she can remember she has wanted to be part of “society”. Recently widowed, she has divested herself of her past, and injected herself into the company of the wealthy society ladies of Olympus House, and the members of the jewel class. Madame Norina is less than pleased when Mrs. Tyler interrupts her to sign up for the class and choose her “jewel” cup from which the ladies drink the rather disgusting concoction Madame Norina calls her Water of Health. Laura is disappointed that there isn’t a blue glass to go with her new blue exercise outfit but settles for the green one as being the least offensive next choice.
Between the beauty salon and the party thrown by tycoon Waldo Wylde, we meet the various members of the jewel exercise class: Wilde’s wife Ginny, who seems to be a nymphomaniac currently with her hooks into the husband of Isabel Orwell; Eleanor Anthony, “a strikingly beautiful woman . . . [of] considerable intelligence and charm” but with a secret hanging over her head; Miss Alicia Carruthers, an icon in the Dallas real estate scene, known for her “puritanical ideas” who disappears mysteriously every Tuesday and Wednesday for what purpose not even her several office managers knew or even had means to contact her.
I quite enjoyed the backstory on Rebecca Cloudwebb, and her partnership with the widow of her late police partner, Jesse, in the beautiful old home they had turned into their store with a second floor apartment for Rebecca. As she is reluctantly dragged into the investigation by Flora, she begins to truly start to live for the first time since Jesse’s death, and contemplates returning to physiotherapy to get rid of her dependence on the cane, and be all she can be. As maddening as she finds Flora, she learns to partly admire her interrogation skills and her ability to make the truth convey a totally untruthful meaning.
This was a really fast, enjoyable read, with so many suspects, possible blackmailers, off-track gambling, political power pressuring, an overweight exercise madame with delusions of grandeur, and a fearful recluse who finally finds the courage to leave her suite only to encounter a body in a lonely corridor. What a great story! I’ll certainly be looking at more books by Janis Patterson and you can find out more about Janis from her website and see the many more titles she has written as well. * * * *