A confluence of events lead me to pick up this much treasured first in an older, but excellent, series. I've been bored senseless at work so I've been working on creating a perfect database of my books over on libib.com and seeing the Amanda Pepper titles made me realise it's been an age since I've read any of them. We've been hit with a heat wave this week that's peaked today with a 43C/110F high, and finally, the A/C at the office cried "Uncle!" and quite first thing this morning, so once the indoor temps hit 34C, I went home - 11:15am. So I had a delightful afternoon at home with nothing to do but think cool thoughts and pray to the A/C gods that mine was made of sterner stuff and kept the house cool. Oh, and read! I could have grabbed one from my every growing TBR pile, but Amanda Pepper was on my mind, so I picked up the first in the series, and possibly my favorite, Caught Dead in Philadelphia.
This whole series, with the benefit of hindsight, seems to be one straddling the space between "traditional" cozies and the cozies we have today that seem, almost without exception, to be following the formulae de jour; namely, everything must have a theme or be centered around a hobby, and just about all of them have to bleed just a little bit into chick-lit. I'm not complaining, as I read a staggering number of them, but I admit most cozies today lack a certain weightiness, or, dare I say, maturity, that many of the older cozies took for granted was a part of what made a good story.
Caught Dead in Philadelphia (and the series as a whole) has more weight to it, more gravitas, but it has the lovely, lively banter, sarcasm - snark - that I love so much about modern cozies too. Amanda Pepper is a teacher at a private, posh preparatory school - not because she has noble views of educating the future, or because she feels it's her calling, but because there's not much else she can do with her liberal arts degree. She's not perky, upbeat, or optimistic. She's just a normal early 30's woman with a job, trying to avoid her mother's constant "why aren't you married yet??" harping. Until she comes home one day to find her co-worker, Liza, dead on her fireplace hearth. Liza, who was engaged to an old-money politician preparing a run for office. Detective C.K. Mackenzie finds it odd that Liza was at her house alone and Amanda was the last person to see her alive, and everybody but everybody wants to know what Liza told her before she was killed.
The plot necessarily throws Amanda and C.K. (who won't reveal what the C or the K stands for - setting up a running gag that spans over quite a few of the books) together for most of the book, and it's when these two are together that the dialogue really shines. Witty, sarcastic, sometimes sincere enough to put a little hitch in your pulse rate. I love these two together, they're probably one of my favorite "cozy couples" over the years. Ms. Roberts writes a realistic relationship that is never boring, even when it is.
The murder plot is a fine one. Since it's a re-read it's hard for me to claim "there are no holes in this plot!" and really be sure I'm right, but I'll stand by my assertion that it's finely crafted with more than a few suspects with very real motives and an ending that is rather unexpected. I think. I'll just add here in a not-so-natural segue, that the book dates beautifully - nothing felt out of date, out of style or 'old fashioned', and other than a lack of computers/mobile phones, this story could have taken place in the present day as well as in the 80's.
This is a cozy of the old school, although not the oldest. It's not stuffy but it's not cotton candy either. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who likes a good murder mystery without either the noir or the frothy whipped cream.