Who's Kitten Who? Mass Market Paperback – Sep 25 2007
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About the Author
Cynthia Baxter is a native of Long Island, New York. She is the author of the Reigning Cats & Dogs mystery series, featuring vet-turned-sleuth Jessie Popper, and the Murder Packs a Suitcase mystery series, featuring travel writer Mallory Marlowe. Baxter currently resides on the North Shore, where she is at work on her next mysteries in both series.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Man is the most intelligent of the animals—and the most silly."—Diogenes
Ouch!" I cried. "Stop, I'm begging you! You're torturing me!"
"Hold still!" my attacker insisted.
I glanced around desperately, wondering if there was any way out. But I was afraid that continuing to resist would only anger my assailant—who was armed, dangerous, and clearly determined to make me her next victim.
"You are moving too much, signorina!" she exclaimed. "I can not make the neckline straight if you will not stop—what is the word?—fidgeting!"
I have every right to fidget, I thought crossly. First I get roped into spending my Saturday morning standing on a ridiculous pedestal in the middle of a bridal shop, surrounded by enough ruffles and veils to make me break out in a rash. Then I get turned into a giant pincushion. As if that's not bad enough, I'm periodically forced to twirl around like an Olympic ice skater to make sure the skirt of this preposterous dress swirls in just the right way.
But I knew I'd get no sympathy here. In fact, from the relentless way Gabriella Bertucci kept sticking me, you would have thought she was a voodoo priestess instead of a fashion designer whose wedding dresses were well known all over Long Island.
"Take a look in the mirror, signorina," Gabriella said with a sigh. "You look so beautiful, no?"
I screwed up my face before forcing myself to peer into the three-sided full-length mirror. When your idea of sprucing up is putting on a freshly washed Polarfleece jacket and a sparklin' new pair of chukka boots, being encased in a Barbie doll frock that reaches down to the floor and is cut nearly as low is about as much fun as changing a tire on a twenty-six-foot veterinary clinic-on-wheels. In the dark. In the rain. And sleet.
But after all the time, energy, and emotion I'd invested in having this dress made, I figured it was time to check out the results. Maybe, I hoped, I would even look something close to nice . . .
"E-e-ek!" I cried.
"Signorina!" Gabriella sounded as if she was about to burst into tears. "You don't like?"
I stood a little straighter and forced myself to take another look. An objective look. Even though my dark-blond hair hung limply, and even though as usual I wasn't wearing any makeup, I was startled by what I saw. The dress Gabriella Bertucci had custom-made for me fit beautifully, making me look more like Cinderella than I ever would have thought possible.
Her creation was made from a silky fabric that draped around my various body parts in a surprisingly flattering way. It skimmed over my torso and waist and hips, giving me a womanly shape that a comfortable pair of jeans just didn't capture. Even the low-cut neckline looked good on me. At least, once I finally stopped tugging at it after remembering that the petite fashionista had a sharp pair of scissors in her possession and that even she had a breaking point.
The only problem was the dress's color.
When it came to planning her wedding, my dear friend Betty Vandervoort was turning out to be a real traditionalist. Instead of an edgy event with, say, a justice of the peace who did a rap version of the ceremony or a hippie minister who recited the poems of Charles Bukowski, she surprised me by insisting on something out of a fairy tale. And it included a bride in a long white gown accompanied by bridesmaids in pastel shades like baby pink and pale yellow and my own mint green, colors that made us look more like dishes of candy than grown women.
I'd pleaded with Betty to let her bridesmaids wear a more dignified color.
"How about black?" I suggested hopefully. "These days, bridesmaids dressed in black are considered the height of sophistication."
"Black is for funerals," she returned with a frown. "When I married Charles, longer ago than I care to admit, we eloped. This time around, I want the kind of wedding I've dreamed about since I was a little girl. And that means a maid of honor who looks like an angel, not the Grim Reaper!"
The other details of Betty's spring wedding, now just three weeks away, were equally traditional. The ceremony in which she was marrying Winston Farnsworth, a charming British gentleman I completely approved of, would take place in the garden of the estate on which we both lived. The area was going to be festooned with garlands of gauzy white tulle and hundreds of flowers. The music would be performed by a string quartet dressed in tuxedos or black gowns.
She was even demanding that the canine guests come formally attired.
In fact, it seemed as if Betty had put more thought into deciding exactly what my snow-white Westie, Max, and my black-and-white Dalmatian, Lou, would wear on the big day than she put into choosing her own dress. She'd finally decided on red bow ties for both of them, and for her fiance Winston's dog, a wirehaired dachshund named Frederick, she'd selected a bright yellow bow tie that would complement his soft fawn-and-tan fur.
Personally, I thought all three dogs looked just fine naked.
But it wasn't my wedding. Betty had already pointed that out several times. And a few of those times, she'd suggested that I'd have much more leverage if I'd consider making it a double wedding. That certainly put an end to my complaining.
Now that I was officially engaged to Nick, ideas like that probably shouldn't have surprised me. Yet becoming engaged had been a big enough step, one I was still trying to adjust to. I hadn't gotten used to wearing the small but tasteful antique diamond ring that had belonged to Nick's grandmother, so the idea of shopping for caterers, squealing excitedly over bridal shower gifts, and enduring fittings for my own white dress—not to mention contemplating actually being married—was way beyond me.
For the moment, the role of maid of honor was about all I could cope with.
"What you don't like?" Gabriella asked hopefully, studying my reflection with the same intensity as I was. "Maybe I can fix."
"The dress is beautiful," I assured her. "It's just that it's so . . . so green."
The tiny native of Milan, Italy, with the build of Pinocchio and the determination of Julius Caesar, folded her arms against her chest. "Signorina," she replied crisply, "is not me who choose the color. If you no like, you talk with Signora Vandervoort and see if she change."
Fat chance, I thought. There was no reasoning with a woman who, in her eighth decade of life, was suddenly subscribing to magazines like Over-the-Top Bride.
Still, Betty had promised to meet me at Gabriella's shop this morning so she could see the dress. I supposed this was my big chance to make whatever constructive criticisms I could come up with, but I was torn. Up until a few minutes ago, I'd believed I was willing to do anything in the world for her.
I was pondering the possibility that the one thing I wasn't willing to do was risk being arrested for impersonating Scarlett O'Hara when I heard a car door slam outside the shop. Seconds later, the bride-to-be—and the person responsible for my transformation into a life-size after-dinner mint—came dashing through the door.
From Betty's fringed lime-green capri pants, lemon-yellow linen blouse, and orange espadrilles, no one would ever have guessed that at that moment Gabriella was busily stitching up a wedding dress for her that had enough satin, Belgian lace, and tiny beads to make my dress look like a military uniform by comparison. Just looking at her was enough to provide me with the day's minimum requirement of vitamin C.
I was mustering up the courage to register my concerns over the dress when I noticed the expression on her face.
"Betty, what's the matter?" I demanded. "You look like you've just lost your best friend!"
"Simon Wainwright may not have been my best friend," Betty replied seriously, "but that doesn't make the fact that he's been murdered any easier to take."
It took a few seconds for the meaning of her words to sink in.
"Someone you know was murdered?" I cried. I lifted my skirt and started to step off the pedestal.
"Scusa, signorina," Gabriella burst out, sounding completely exasperated. "We will never finish the dress if you do not stop moving around like a . . . a puppy!"
"Let's take a break," I suggested, more calmly than I felt. Apparently, the dress designer's English vocabulary didn't include the word murder.
But mine did.
"Sit down," I instructed Betty. "Take a few deep breaths and tell me exactly what happened."
"Signorina! The pins—"
"I'll be careful," I assured Gabriella. Suddenly, getting poked with a few straight pins didn't seem to matter at all.
As soon as Betty and I perched on the brocade-covered couch that graced one corner of the shop, I turned to face her.
"First of all, who is Simon Wainwright?" I asked.
"A member of the amateur theater group I belong to," she replied, wiping away a tear. "Someone who was so charismatic he would light up a room the moment he walked into it. Yet he never let any of it go to his head. Everyone loved him. He was one of the kindest, most charming, most down-to-earth people I've ever met.
"He joined the Port Players about a year ago, five or six months before I first got involved with them. From what I hear, it didn't take long for everyone to see what a talented actor he was. And then, a few months ago, he mentioned to Derek Albright, the executive director, that he'd written a play. Derek was completely blown away by it, and he begged Simon to let the Port Pl...
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Despite their age difference, Jessica "Jessie" Popper would do anything for her nearest and dearest friend, Betty Vandervoort - including wearing a hideous, mint green maid-of-honor dress for her wedding - so when she asks Jessie to investigate the murder of talented playwright and actor, Simon Wainwright, Jessie doesn't hesitate to dive in headfirst. Sadly, she had no idea that this investigation would land her a starring role in the latest production by the dead man himself. After years of struggling, Simon Wainwright finally struck gold with his most recent script, garnering the attention of Broadway bigwigs who could not only make him a star, but provide him with all the cash he'll need to live in splendor. When he's found in a costume trunk, it's pretty obvious that foul play is involved. Jessie, however, never could have imagined the type of sordid relationships surrounding the popular playwright. Luckily, she has experience with sordid relationships. As the fiance of Nick Burby, ex-private investigator, and current first-year law student, Jessie is quite familiar with the ugly side of relationships. Since their engagement, however, Jessie believes that she has finally found the strength to be happy - romantically, that is. Until Nick's parents come into town, and take up residence in Jessie's tiny cottage, their maniacal Maltese, in tow. Jessie always believed that she had the chops to put up with pestering soon-to-be in-laws; but when they arrive in the midst of an investigation and play rehearsals, in addition to her normal veterinary business, she knows that she certainly doesn't have the time to play hostess. Therefore, when she loses her cool, and makes the mistake of alienating her future relatives, she realizes that she's in the doghouse with her one-eyed Dalmation, Lou, and her tailless Westie, Max. But, as they say in show business, no matter what's going on in your life, the show must go on. Even if your life happens to be in danger.
Since I completed RIGHT FROM THE GECKO, I have eagerly awaited Cynthia Baxter's WHO'S KITTEN WHO?, and I couldn't be more pleased with the release. Over the years, Baxter's Jessie Popper has evolved into a close friend, and confidante, of sorts; what with her frequent remarks about pop culture and her passion for animals. Which is why, as Jessie stumbles upon some bumps in her relationship with Nick, you can't help but sympathize with our heroine. As always, Jessie is her bubbly, well-educated self. She is full of personality, and her determination to assist a friend in need are present at all times; however, she does display a slight bit of sadness as she is forced to tolerate Nick's invading parents, and the turmoil they just happen to be creating between the two lovebirds. While I have always been a strong supporter of Nick Burby, and his relationship with Jessie, I can't help but find myself disliking him in this installment, and thinking that the two might just be better off apart. Romance and relationship crisis aside, Baxter has penned a cleverly-written, unstoppable mystery that keeps you guessing until the very last page. Her foray into the world of theater gives readers the chance to experience the life of an actor, actress, or playwright; and provides us with the opportunity to see just how cutthroat the entertainment industry truly is. WHO'S KITTEN WHO? is the cat's meow!
Luckily, Jessica has something to keep her mind occupied; a speaking part in a community theatre that is scheduled to go to Broadway. The writer and star of the show Simon Wainwright is found murdered in a trunk, his head bashed in. Jessica's best friend and leading lady who cared for Simon asks her to find the killer which is not easy because she is dealing with thespians who know how to fake their emotions. However, the killer is watching Jessica, warning her off and if she doesn't listen, she will be the next victim.
WHO'S KITTEN WHO? is a humorously entertaining amateur sleuth mystery especially the scenes with the heroine and her feline mother-in-law. This tale contains a finely developed mystery because there are many suspects with motives who want the victim dead. There is enough action to keep readers absorbed in the storyline but it is the characters who make this who-done-it an interesting tale as the various personalities more often squabble than work together.
However, I don't know that I can read any more of these books if she is going to play "doormat" for her fiance Nick. Yes, I know she's afraid of commitment; but he's a pig. I don't want to give away the whole story or the romantic subplots, but I almost tossed the book out when she apologized to him and he deigned to forgive her. His apology was required and the fact that it was not offered and she didn't expect it disgusts me. I found that premise idiotic, offensive and insulting to women.
In short, the search for a murderer was fun and the love story almost ruined it for me.
If you've made it this far in the series, you'll recognize the hallmarks of Baxter's mysteries: Jessie takes on an investigation, gets no help from the police, receives 2-3 threatening messages, and figures out who the murderer is shortly before s/he threatens her with physical harm. This one is no different. Baxter does get points for not delving into the dreaded cozy trap of introducing countless secondary characters in previous novels who subsequently appear as extremely unlikely suspects in later novels. Her mysteries do remain fresh for the introduction of 4-5 newly encountered suspects in each novel.
The theatre information is quite nice in this addition to the series. As someone who's tangentially involved in the theatre, I found her brief explanations of technical components both adequate to the newcomer and not boring to the theatre veteran.
Jessie's relationship with Nick is something of a problem in this novel. I won't divulge details, but for various reasons, Nick breaks off the engagement. Jessie, however, is the one who apologizes, returning to her usual excuse of having difficulty committing (which isn't the reason for their argument, in the first place!). Longtime admirer Forrester Sloane makes a strong appearance in this book, and for the first time, I found myself thinking that Jessie really should dump Nick in favor of Forrester. We'll see how it plays out.
Bottom line: The mystery is Baxter's usual lightweight, but interesting fare, and she continues to provide good plot twists. Her series is heavily character-driven, however, and doesn't focus solely on the whodunit aspect. Thus, I don't recommend it for first-time readers. Turn instead to "Dead Canaries Don't Sing," the first in the series.