Spying in High Heels
by Gemma Halliday
(Dorchester, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5735-2
****
Maddie Springer has the kind of job that offers the ultimate flexible schedule – freelance kiddy shoe designer. You work at home, you create your own schedule, and you have plenty of free time to hunt down your missing boyfriend. This is particularly useful if he has gone missing at a really inconvenient time, and if it appears that he is involved in some pretty shady doings (up to and possibly including murder). Maddie desperately needs to find Richard, shady or not, because the “99% effective” warning on a condom box means that someone gets to be that lucky 1%, and she is late, late, late. Her incomplete Strawberry Shortcake high-top design goes on the back burner while she dons her best “Bond Girl” kick-butt duds and begins the hunt. Fashion Note: this outfit includes Jimmy Choos with rhinestone accents.

Maddie begins by looking for clues in Richard’s office and condo (where she reduces the dozen increasingly pathetic messages she had left on his machine down to a respectable single message.) She knows something fishy is up because, at both locations, she runs into the mystery man who was talking to Richard just before he went on the lam – the mystery man with the dark hair and eyes, and the kind of hard look associated with prison. Since Richard didn’t do criminal law, who was this guy? “Nobody,” said Richard (who hasn’t been seen or heard from since.) Mr. Nobody is clearly hunting Richard as well, as Maddie unfortunately learns. And he’s not Mr. Anything; he’s Detective Jack Ramirez, LAPD. Fashion Note: Jack frequently appears in form fitting, worn jeans and a fitted t-shirt, with blazer and gun accessories optional.

So they are both looking for Richard, Jack in a competent, professional, orderly manner and Maddie more in novice mode. Jack would like Maddie to stay out of the way. Instead, she brings in her best friend Dana and they go into “Charlie’s Angels” mode. Or maybe Cagney and Lacey. Really, more Lucy and Ethel, but at least Maddie recognizes this. Fashion Note: Hooker-style spandex is involved.

Meanwhile, Maddie’s mom is preparing to tie the knot with Fernando, hairdresser to the famous (or at least the mothers of the famous). Faux Dad is the owner of a sleek Beverly Hills salon, and Maddie ranks her certainty that he isn’t gay on a sliding scale that dips lower whenever he declares something “fabu.” When she isn’t in denial about the whole thing, Maddie’s busy with wedding details – like the bachelorette party at a male strip club and the hideous purple maid of honor dress that makes her look like Barney on Crack. No further Fashion Note necessary.

Fashion notes are important here, as fashion is quite important to Maddie. I frequently find that type of detail more annoying than interesting, but here it is not presented as part of the background; it is the foreground. Fashion is central to Maddie’s life. The shoes alone could constitute a character of their own, as could the L.A. freeway system. Rare is the book in which the highway system, parking and traffic figure so importantly in the story. Cruising down the 405, merging onto the 10, frequently being early or late or unable to get where she was going due to traffic on the interstate – you would think that would be annoying as well, but it turns out to be absolutely pitch-perfect for L.A.

Also figuring prominently in the plus column is Maddie herself. She is funny, really clever-funny (not quite Stephanie Plum funny, but pretty darn funny). But the Plum series isn’t really romance, it’s mystery and so is Spying in High Heels. It is certainly a good mystery, so while I’ll certainly pick up the second book in the High Heels series, I know not to expect a romance.

This is a four-star mystery, but really only a three-heart romance. Part of what makes it the former is also the cause of the latter – the first person narrative. Maddie pops off the page. She is funny, funnier, funniest. She’s creative, offbeat, and surprisingly realistic (if you think about it, someone’s got to be out there designing SpongeBob SquarePants slippers). But this vantage point leaves Jack in the shadows; there is virtually no indication of his thoughts other than his wolf-like grin. I need more balance. I often find the guy-story the more intriguing, and really notice the lack when it is missing.

One final note – and this did get on my very last nerve – I grew more and more frustrated at Maddie for staying in the hunt for Richard’s sake, even as it became increasing evident that he was not worthy of the effort. Really, possible impregnation by this snarky lawyer/felon/boyfriend is just not a compelling motivation.

--Laura Scott


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