Saturday, September 6, 2008

Review: Tippy-Toe Murder (Leslie Meier)

Tippy-Toe Murder by Leslie Meier
Kensington, 1994, 256 p.

Genre(s): Cozy; small town; mom as detective

Plot: A retired ballet teacher disappears without a trace. Then the much-disliked owner of the local hardware store is murdered. An employee he'd just fired is blamed, but Lucy Stone knows her friend Franny didn't do it - or does she? There may be more to Franny and her past than meets the eye. At the same time, Lucy starts to get an idea of where the missing woman might be, and why. The two plotlines come together in an unexpected (and slightly contrived) way, and the results, having to do with domestic abuse, child abuse, and troubled teenagers, are rather more gritty than I expected from what started out as a light cozy. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, though - it made it more realistic. But it did read a bit as though Meier had started out with an Issue for this book, rather than a plot.

Characters: This is the second Lucy Stone mystery, and the character is starting to come into her own, although I still wish she had a bit more of a distinct personality. While she's trying to solve the mysteries described above, Lucy is also dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and the strain that it has put on her marriage. This subplot makes her husband Bill come across pretty negatively in this book, although there are signs that things might be improving at the end. Lucy's kids are refreshingly realistic - her son has the Little League equivalent of stage fright, and her daughters are preparing for their first ballet recital (and, in a wonderfully realistic touch, popping the heads off their Ken dolls). Lucy's friendship with cop Barney Culpepper continues; Lucy makes sure to explain to the reader that she thinks the "rule" against married women being friends with men is ridiculous, but I liked Barney a lot more than Bill in this book, which didn't help matters. The rest of the minor characters are all fine, but there are too many of them. (See below.)

Setting: Once again, we're in the small town of Tinker's Cove, Maine. (I was slightly confused because there is talk of outlets "up north" in North Conway, which is in New Hampshire. Not that I think these things need to be kept factual, but since there are outlets in North Conway, NH, I wasn't sure if she was referring to that actual town or a fictional North Conway, ME. Not that it matters to the plot or anything.) The town manages to seem close-knit and cozy without being too idealized, which is nice. The various town issues mentioned in passing all seemed pretty realistic, and Meier avoids the trap of the overly eccentric small town characters. There are many named characters, which definitely helps the reader get a feel for the community and Lucy's roots in it, but I had trouble keeping all of her friends and their back stories straight.

Writing: The writing was fine - clear and descriptive, with very few errors. The dialogue was good, and different characters definitely had their own voices. My only issue with the writing was that both narration and dialogue seemed a bit old-fashioned at times.

Grade: A-

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