Maggie Needs an Alibi

Maggie by the Book
by Kasey Michaels
(Kensington, $20.00, G) ISBN 1-57566-881-5
Maggie by the Book is the second installment of the adventures of Maggie Kelly, neurotic best-selling mystery writer. Maggie writes Regency mysteries, the better to use all the arcane knowledge she acquired during her less successful stint as a romance writer. She has crafted a marvelous hero, Alexander Blake, Viscount St. Just. He has Paul Newman’s blue eyes, Jim Carey’s expressive eyebrows, Peter O’Toole’s nose, Clint Eastwood’s body, and Sean Connery’s voice. Wow! And, of course, he has the aristocratic manner and attitudes of a Regency nobleman.

Maggie’s creation is so lifelike that he came to life! With his sidekick, Stanley Balder, Viscount St. Just appeared in Maggie’s apartment one fine day. In Maggie Needs an Alibi, the poor author had to cope with her two unexpected visitors while falling under suspicion for the murder of her publisher. The viscount put his crime solving talents to work to ferret out the killer while at the same time adjusting to life in the 21st century.

The new book begins with St. Just’s convincing a reluctant Maggie to attend the annual WAR (We Are Romance) Conference; he wants to enter the cover model contest. Maggie wants no part of the meeting; she has few fond memories of conferences past. But Alex has a way of getting what he wants and Maggie finds herself in the midst of thousands of romance writers, both published and aspiring. When strange things start happening at the convention culminating in the murder of the grande dame of online romance sites, St. Just must again put on his detective hat and solve the crime.

Actually, they mystery part of this book is quite clever. It seems that someone is determined to ruin the WAR convention. A series of nasty pranks - a singing cowboy who threatens the keynote speaker, a herd of mice in her room, a malfunctioning and shocking microphone, dead roses, an unpleasant gorilla, missing books, an errant sprinkler system - all lead to ascending chaos. Then the elevators fail and when they start up again, Rose Sherwood is found dead and her assistant Liza Lang wounded.

Rose Sherwood was a powerful figure in the world of romance. She had parlayed her e-zine, Rose Knows Romance into an empire. Uncovering the murderer is at the center of the mystery in Maggie by the Book.

But there is so very much more. In Maggie Needs an Alibi Michaels provided a hilarious look at the vicissitudes of writing and publishing. Here she turns her eye for the ridiculous on a writers’ convention. There is no denying that the WAR meeting is a spoof of the annual RWA (Romance Writers’ of America) and RT (Romantic Times) conventions. And not a very subtle spoof at that.

Michaels insists that “This book is dedicated to anyone who thinks they’re in this book. You’re not. Fiction is fiction.” I imagine that such is the case; certainly the catty best-selling author and target of most of the pranks, Felicity Booth Simmons, is not like any author I met at the RWA. Unlike the self-important and condescending Simmons, most romance authors of my acquaintance are amazingly friendly and forthcoming. Nor is Rose really like any real person in the romance publishing. Still, there is enough subtle truth in the portrayals to give the humor a bit of an edge. And the humor is very good.

Equally entertaining is the continuing saga of St. Just’s and Stanley’s struggle to adapt to their new circumstances. Watching a Regency nobleman try to make his way in contemporary America is a real treat. Maggie gave Alex a keen intelligence and a biting wit as well as the top lofty attitude of his class. He is doing remarkably well in adapting to his new life.

Another thread explores the developing relationship between Maggie and her creation. St. Just is clearly the epitome of all Maggie’s romantic dreams, but can a neurotic New Yorker hope to find happiness with a man whose values and attitudes are so rooted in the past? And will St. Just disappear as suddenly as he appeared? Is not Detective Wendell a much safer bet?

Maggie by the Book is just plain fun! Mystery readers will enjoy its clever whodunit; romance readers will appreciate its amusing take on their favorite genre. I sure hope the “Maggie” series continues for a long time.

--Jean Mason

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