Monday, January 16, 2012
Piper Donovan accepts when the owner of Elysium, an exclusive spa and plastic surgery center, offers her an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to create a dazzling and unique wedding cake. The job also gives Piper the time and distance she needs to sort out her feelings for handsome FBI agent Jack Lombardi.
The ultra-luxurious spa caters to the rich and famous in need of a little “refreshing”—a nip here, a tuck there, a little Botox, a little detox. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, Elysium seems picture-perfect: the grounds, the staff, even the guests. But no sooner does Piper arrive than a guest is brutally murdered in one of the private bungalows. Someone, it seems, wants to make sure Elysium’s beautiful director, Jillian Abernathy, never gets to walk down the aisle. Piper soon discovers that beneath the glamorous surface of this idyllic oasis lies an ugly truth—and a cold-blooded plan for murder. -- William Morrow
THE LOOK OF LOVE by Mary Jane Clark is the second book in the Piper Donovan Mystery series, and I have to tell you that I think I liked this one as much as the first novel TO HAVE AND TO KILL (you can read my review here.) I won't go so far as to call these books literary mysteries -- they definitely fall more into the cozy category -- but I do think they are a great way to spend a few hours. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the Piper Donovan mysteries might be some of my favorite new cozies.
THE LOOK OF LOVE picks up right where TO HAVE AND TO KILL left off. That's not to say that this novel can't work as a standalone because it does, but I admit that I am excited that there is a cozy series that I've started reading from the very beginning. That's pretty unusual for me lately! At the end of TO HAVE AND TO KILL, Piper had designed a gorgeous wedding cake for her friend... as well as solving a murder. Because her cake design was featured in so many popular magazines, Piper was offered a job to make a wedding cake in Los Angeles at a ritzy spa and resort. Since Piper is also a struggling actress in addition to being a cake decorator, she figures she can use her spare time on the trip to do some auditioning.
Piper's customer, Jillian, is the manager of the spa (and daughter of the spa owner.) Jillian has already postponed her marriage after her cleaning lady Esperanza is the victim of a brutal acid attack. It appears that the attacker mistook Esperanza for Jillian and the acid was really meant to disfigure Jillian. While Esperanza is rehabbing at the spa, she begins to remember some details of the attack. Unfortunately she mentions this to one of the employees, and she is soon murdered.
So once again, Piper finds herself right smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery. So not only is she making a wedding cake for Jillian (or is she?) and auditioning for a commercial, she is also trying to solve the murder of Esperanza. But even that's not enough for Piper. She also hooks up with an investigative reporter to do a sting operation on a very creepy spa employee who does a "secret" facial treatment which requires him to put the clients to sleep. Of course, Piper saves the day as well as solving Esperanza's murder; however, she also gets herself into some pretty risky situations.
I enjoyed the mystery, but I do admit that I figured out the culprit pretty early on. That didn't affect my enjoyment of the novel though. Maybe because of this, I thought the side stories in THE LOOK OF LOVE made it special. One thing I really liked were the references to the Monastery of Angels and their homemade pumpkin bread. The Monastery of Angels is indeed a real convent and they do make and sell pumpkin bread! Another thing I really liked about this novel was the side story about the young woman who had three botched nose jobs. Ms. Clark used this character (and a few others) to show the value our culture places on appearances. That's certainly true in Los Angeles, the setting of this novel, where cosmetic surgery and Botox are almost second nature.
And lastly, I do have one slight complaint about the story. Piper's potential love interest Jack didn't have a big enough role. At the end of TO HAVE AND TO KILL, it seemed as if Piper and Jack might be ready to admit their feelings toward each other. Goodness knows, they certainly had some chemistry. However, this novel begins with Piper needing a break from their "relationship." As a result, Jack wasn't in very many scenes, and the ones he was in were without Piper. The ending of the book did satisfy me, but I am curious to see what happens between Piper and Jack in the third book.
Overall, I enjoyed THE LOOK OF LOVE a great deal. It was a fun way to spend a few hours and escape from the drudgery of my work around the house.
Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.
Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.