Killer Summer by Lynda Curnyn
(Red Dress Ink, $12.95, R) ISBN 0-373-89522-4
Lynda Curnyn's first foray into chick-lit suspense just happens to be my first foray into her writing. I waffled over purchasing her earlier title, Bombshell, fearing yet another Bridget Jones type tale, but after this it's now on my must read list. Curnyn has clearly proven herself with Killer Summer. While it's not usual chick-lit fare, it is one of the best stories I have read in a while. Zoe, Sage and Nick are looking forward to having the summer of their lives. They are getting older and are drifting apart as best friends tend to do when careers, romances and life in general gets in the way. This summer is a time to reconnect, to revel in the last vestiges of their carefree youth and relish their friendships. Or, it's supposed to be.

Everything changes when the body of Maggie, Sage's boss and owner of the beach house, washes up on shore late one night. A bit drunk, loaded with Valium and completely naked, Maggie in no way resembles the Martha Stewart-esque woman who earlier that very night was preparing lamb chops and fretting over coriander.

Zoe can't help but notice that everyone changes after Maggie's death. Tom, the widower, seems to be having the time of his life. His mortgage is paid, he's suddenly single and he's throwing lavish parties. Fun, friendly Nick is suddenly keeping secrets about his latest get rich quick scheme and spending lots of cash. As for Sage, well wild-child Sage seems to forget her friends even exist. She's focusing all her time on Vince, Tom's all too tempting business partner. The only person mourning Maggie is Zoe. Is there more to the "accident" that meets the eye? And if so, does anyone but Zoe care?

Curnyn gives us a unique perspective with Killer Summer: that of the corpse. She "head-hops" into post-mortem Maggie, Zoe, Nick and Sage. Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view. This technique is usually jarring, but Curnyn makes it work. She uses character to express a different part of the plot. Zoe raises the questions, while Maggie gives us the answers. Maggie's exposition isn't clunky or out of place, as exposition usually is. It is simply Maggie making a comment on something Zoe has speculated about. Maggie's monologues from the grave thread throughout the novel, tying it all together.

Sage's chapters serve to flesh out the characters. She has the most familiar relationship with each of the characters and serves to provide background information. Humor, which is found throughout the book, is prevalent in Nick's chapters. Whether it's Nick's near misses at being caught with Tom's thrill-seeking daughter or his attempts to control Les, the "star" of his new record label, Nick never fails to inject a bit of levity into the story.

Despite its humorous approach, Killer Summer contains a solid mystery. While readers will be able to figure out the culprit before Zoe does, plenty of red herrings pave the way to the true killer. The answers are neither too simple nor too hard, providing just the right amount of suspense.

Curnyn isn't just writing a mystery though, she's constructing a love story, or rather several love stories. Each friend has his or her own brush with love and with loss. Each love story is well written and rings true emotionally. While not everyone lives happily ever after, each character does take something from his or her relationship. Curnyn doesn't just throw the characters together with random people, just to make all the ends tie up neatly.

Killer Summer isn't exactly a light-hearted beach book, despite its bikini-strewn cover, but it is a great read.

--Amanda Waters

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