Writer turns to the here and now, including e-publishing
After “The Barefoot Queen” and “In the Lion’s Mouth,” two exciting and carefully researched Irish historical romances set during the Renaissance period, Jean Harrington has shifted gears to the here and now.
The here in “Designed for Death” is the beachfront condo world of Naples; the now refers to the world of e-publishing as well as to the timeframe for the novel. The author’s connection with Carina Press puts her inside the Harlequin empire. Carina is a division of Harlequin devoted to e-publishing on a large scale. Certain Carina Press titles may later be selected for print publication.
“Designed for Death” takes place in and around the fictional but probable complex of Surfside, where recently widowed interior designer Devalera “Deva” Dunne has settled to restart her life.
Little does she know what her new community has in store for her.
Deva is attempting to re-establish her interior design career by helping Surfside’s owner, Dick Parker, turn rental apartments into condos. She’s also getting business from new condo owners who are looking to individualize their homes. One of these clients is a tall, striking woman named Treasure, once a regular at the Foxy Lady Lounge on Route 951.
Deva and Treasure are getting along fine selecting the ingredients for the classic Hollywood décor Treasure desires. Before long, however, Deva finds Treasure murdered in the condo — a gruesome ending to a brief friendship.
Not satisfied with Lt. Victor Rossi’s oo official investigation, Deva begins her own sleuthing, much to the handsome ppoliceman’s dismay. Emotionally vulnerable n
Ds after the loss of her husband, Deva is suspicious of the advances of several Surfside residents: (supposed) bbachelor Simon Yeager, Neal Tomson and the married Mr. Parker, who is Deva’s main source of income.
Could either of the bickering partners Chip and AudreyAnn be guilty of infidelity and murder? And what about Faye LaBelle, drag queen extraordinaire, who was once Treasure’s roommate? Faye no doubt felt betrayed when Treasure, his gay lover once named Tom, underwent a sex change operation to become a woman.
Along the way, Rossi discovers that the blood trail on Treasure’s carpet is a woman’s. But does the blood belong to the murderer?
The book’s notable scenes include Deva’s visit to the Foxy Lady Lounge, where she picks up pieces of information and witnesses a colorful scene that includes drag queen Hedda Lettuce, Faye’s partner in the establishment. Another is Treasure’s funeral, more like an Irish wake, in which good memories and high spirits help friends and acquaintances cope with their loss.
As Deva’s investigation advances, she is always butting heads (figuratively, though she wouldn’t mind if it happened literally) with Rossi. There are signs that he might be attracted to her and that his gruff warnings for her to leave the police work to him are motivated by something other than professional policy or pride.
Aside from the expected twists and turns of a well-developed mystery story, “Designed for Death” has other special attractions. The novel makes use of Deva’s training to present an abundance of nicely handled details about interior design. This focus provides an interesting way of creating insights into character, as people’s taste in design reveals a lot about them.
And Deva has several client-suspects at the Surfside condos. She is surprisingly aggressive in tracking and examining physical clues, questioning Surfside residents and searching for motives.
For readers who know Naples well, references to several eateries — Mel’s Diner, St. George and two nearly adjacent places, one an Irish Pub and the other named Island Grill — make for enjoyable “ah-hah” moments of recognition. Ms. Harrington’s portayal of the Naples ambience is one of this book’s many charms.
Not so very charming, but equally effective in building tension, is the way the author integrates awareness of the approaching hurricane season, eventually leading to a climax involving the terrors of a storm named Caroline that pins Deva down while Treasure’s murderer moves to put an end to Deva’s sleuthing.
All through “Designed for Death,” Ms. Harrington finds opportunities to flesh out her protagonist.
We learn much about Deva’s background, her relationship with her late husband and, in the unfolding present, her manner of coping with that enormous loss. One would expect that the author would not have drawn such an elaborate portrait had she not intended to put Deva to work in future novels.
Meanwhile, enjoy this one. ¦