After the dramatic events at the end of her first experiment as Madam Tulip, Derry puts away her costume and fortune-telling apparatus, focusing on something safer -- like theater. Which works up until the roof caves in after her big opening night. So now she (and her friends) are without jobs, the theater's existence is in danger, and Derry's mother is just waiting for a chance to pounce and force her into a "real" job.
Derry and her pals organize a charity auction (with some help from her mother) to help the theater -- Derry also ends up working for her mother in a temporary capacity (only one of them actually believes that part) -- we see a different side of her, on e that makes you believe she has options outside of acting if she wants them. I like seeing her character rounded out -- I also liked the little flash we had of her acting ability outside of Madam Tulip.
Marlene comes to the rescue as well -- she has a friend from a titled family, who is throwing an extravagant engagement party and wants Madam Tulip to be part of it. This will give Derry a needed infusion of cash and the family will make a contribution to the theater's fund as well (there's a family connection). Bruce also picks up some work, which is convenient for Derry -- and for Ahern -- always handy to have your ex-SEAL buddy character nearby if things go bad. And they do, naturally -- Derry has visions of an unhappy bride, body parts start showing up in the mail (don't worry -- this doesn't get gruesome), and rumors of other family problems surround Derry. It's up to her, her clients (featuring a spunky dowager), and Bruce to save the day.
It might just be me, but there's a larger supernatural feel to this one. Last time, you could almost get away thinking that Derry was just good at reading people and doing the card thing as a lark. But in this volume, there's no denying that she has some sort of "sight." While the supernatural is more evident here, it's not like Charlaine Harris took over, it's still pretty much the same feel. Also, I should add that Derry putting the pieces together at the end isn't all due to her gift -- the practical side, her mother's influence, that has as much to do with her success as anything else.
There's a bit of a romantic storyline here, I liked this one better than the previous book's foray into that part of Derry's life. It was less complicated and more believable. Sure, I liked the guy from the last book more than this one -- but the story worked better with this interest.
The whole gang is back for this go 'round. We didn't get a lot of Bella, less of Marlene than I expected, and less of Bruce than I wanted (but he's there when he needed to be) -- but the just the right amount of Jacko (who was a lot of fun) and her mom. The new characters were okay, I didn't get the sense of connection to them that I did with everyone last time -- they were clearly invented just for this adventure, ready to be replaced by another group in need of her talents.
This is a fun, light mystery -- great for readers of David Rosenfeldt or Janet Evanovich, who don't mind a touch of something beyond this world. I really liked the first book in this series -- I've even put my money where my mouth is and given it as gifts. I liked this one almost as much, but in many ways it reminded me about what I've heard many TV writers talk about -- writing the pilot is hard, but the 2<sup>nd</sup> episode is worse -- it's basically retelling the pilot in a slightly different way. On many fronts, that's what this felt like: a slightly tweaked version of the first book (and as soon as I wrote that, I thought of at least a half-dozen ways I was wrong to say it). I hope book 3 (assuming we get one) is a little less like these two. But I'm still going to be there, because these characters and Ahern's voice are right up my alley and I want to spend more time with both.