Researching the life of Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew mysteries, Cece meets a flamboyant collector of "Blue Nancys," the original books with blue covers. When he finds out that she is taking a road trip to Palm Springs to snoop around at the annual Nancy Drew fan convention, he offers her the use of his swanky vacation house. But the last thing Cece expects to find lying around the swimming pool is one very dead body.
In a race against time that takes her from a secret enclave of restored Victorians near downtown L.A. to the driest stretches of California desert, Cece will have to channel her former idol and then some to unmask a sly killer -- before he comes after her. Of course, it helps to have a knockout collection of vintage clothing, though Cece prefers Azzedine Alaïa semigloss knits and Halston silver sequined berets to Nancy's prim suits and gloves.
Filled with wit, energy, and clever twists, not to mention one smart, hip heroine, Not a Girl Detective is pure entertainment.
About the Author
Susan Kandel is a former art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has taught at New York University and UCLA, and served as editor of the international journal artext. She lives in West Hollywood, California, with her husband, two daughters, and dog.
Read an Excerpt
Not a Girl DetectiveA Cece Caruso Mystery
By Susan Kandel
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Susan Kandel
All right reserved.
When I couldn't tell the rain from my tears I knew it was time to pull over. I laid my arms across the steering wheel and choked back a sob. I had gone through the first four stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression. Now I was stuck on stage five -- damning the mechanic. But what good was that going to do? My Toyota Camry was dying. Not peacefully but spectacularly, with great plumes of smoke emanating from the rear and strange wails coming out of the airconditioning vents.
Yesterday, the tape deck shredded Frank Sinatra's greatest hits. The day before, the cup holder snapped off in my hands, sending Diet Coke all over my favorite beaded sweater. Hell, if I had known it was going to end like this, I would've leased a Jaguar in the first place.
If only I were the cheerful sort, like my best friend Lael. It's unseemly how cheerful Lael is. That's all I'll say. Or conniving, like my second best friend, Bridget, who knows just what to say when, and to whom. Scary. Or better yet, the resourceful type, like teenage supersleuth Nancy Drew. I spent my entire youth idolizing that girl. I'm pushing forty now, but some fantasies die hard.
If only I were Nancy Drew.
I'd pull some Vaseline out of my handbag and fix those windshield wipers lickety-split. I'd solve the mystery of the airconditioning vents with my superior knowledge of dehumidifi- cation, say. And if I couldn't get the car to stop smoking by any other means, I'd ask my daddy to buy me a new one. A pretty blue roadster to match my pretty blue eyes.
Self-recrimination has long been a favorite pastime. I could keep it going forever, but I had someplace to be. I opened the car door and stepped directly into a puddle. Damn. With my raincoat pulled up over my head, I waded around back and stared at the exhaust pipe in wonder. How could it betray me? Vexed, I gave it a kick. It belched, evil thing. Then it occurred to me that it could explode any second -- the whole car, I mean. These things do happen. But I was such a sodden mess I probably wasn't combustible. And they say it never rains in Southern California.
I fished my cell phone out of my purse and was about to call for a tow when I realized the bookstore I was heading to was only a few blocks away. I decided to make a run for it. That would be the end of my spike-heeled boots, of course, but they were already halfway to kingdom come. Maybe I could claim them as a business expense. I'd been taking a more aggressive approach to tax deductions lately. My accountant's thinking was that I made so little money they'd never in a million years bother auditing me. I wasn't sure that was sound reasoning, but Mr. Keshigian had managed to keep all his gangster relations out of the hands of the IRS, so I could hardly question his expertise. And god forbid he should fix me up with one of the cousins again.
Dodging the mud puddles, I sprinted down Melrose Avenue. No one sipping organic coffee at the Bodhisattva Café today. What a neighborhood. On sunny days you could drop your car with the Bodhisattva's valet, pick up a soy latte to go, and in the space of a single city block have your palm read, buy a New Age tome, get your colon cleaned, and take a ceramics class -- not necessarily in that order. It wasn't my thing. I grew up in New Jersey. I live for synthetics.
Frederick A. Dalthorp Rare Books and Bindery was just around the corner, and talk about synthetic. It had fake gothic spires poking into the sky, stained-glass windows, turrets. No serving wenches, however. Too bad. I could've used a tankard of ale right about then. Nope, just the Dalthorp twins. They'd inherited the business from their father, Frederick, a smooth operator who'd sweet-talked the building out of some morticians who'd been there since the thirties. The Dalthorps were cousins of my purported boyfriend, Peter Gambino. A few weekends ago we'd had brunch together and they'd made a big to-do over Gambino's mocha chip pancakes, which I found impossible to stomach myself. But those girls were clearly addicted to sugar. They were eating marzipan at their desks when I pushed open the massive wooden door.
"Heave ho!" I said.
"For god's sake, don't spray the books!" yelled Dena, the older of the two by seventeen minutes and accustomed to milking every one of them.
"What do you think I am, a Saint Bernard?"
"Oh, Cece," murmured Victoria, Dena's more politic sister, "look at your turtleneck! It shrank in the rain!" She handed me a wad of paper towels.
"It's cropped," I explained, drying off. "It's supposed to be that way. It matches my cropped toreador pants."
"Good god," said Dena. Dena did not appreciate fashion. She was wearing a shapeless woolen sweater, a longish kilt, and brogues. Perfect for stomping through the heather.
Victoria gave me a sympathetic look. "I'm sure you looked lovely."
"Thank you," I said, crushed by her use of the past tense.
"The seventies, right?"
"The fifties, actually. Gina Lollabrigida goes beatnik?"
I was used to being misunderstood. My mother, a rummage-sale diva, never met a pot holder she couldn't love. Or a TV tray table not worth saving. She'd happily plunk down five dollars for a moribund blender, ten dollars for a card table with three legs. Yet she was unable to figure out why I'd want to wear old clothes. Worse yet, somebody else's old clothes.
"So what's this about Nancy Drew?" Dena asked.
The chitchat was over.
"Cece's writing a book about Nancy Drew!" Victoria exclaimed ...
Excerpted from Not a Girl Detective by Susan Kandel Copyright © 2005 by Susan Kandel. Excerpted by permission.
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