As a Realtor, I still have a brief moment of nerves every time I take a buyer into a house for sale. Even if the property is vacant or I’ve arranged beforehand to be there, there’s always a chance I’m going to walk into something I’m not prepared for. Like someone sleeping, or someone in the shower, or two people – well, you know. Luckily, the worst thing I’ve found so far is a very messy house. But in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about what could be waiting for me. Like, say, a dead body.
That’s exactly what’s waiting for property manager Tish Ballard, heroine of Eileen Goudge’s "Cypress Bay" mysteries series. In Swimsuit Body, the second book of the series, Tish is managing a luxurious home rented out to Hollywood star Delilah Ward, who’s filming a movie nearby and recovering from the death of her husband. But when Tish shows up one day and finds Delilah dead of a gunshot to the head, she gets pulled into the mystery of who killed Delilah. With all sorts of Hollywood folks floating around – including Brianna, Tish’s assistant and the niece of the movie’s director – it’s anyone’s guess who pulled the trigger. At the same time, Tish’s mentally ill brother has run off with a senior citizen, and the police suspect him of killing Delilah. Add a boyfriend serving overseas and a love/hate relationship with homicide detective Spencer Breedlove, and Tish really has her hands full.
Tish is a smart, wry protagonist in the vein of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. She has a touch of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum (her back story with Spencer reminded me of Stephanie’s back story with Joe), but Tish isn’t nearly as clumsy or amusing as Stephanie. As a recovering alcoholic, she has a bit of a hard edge and a defensiveness that those two heroines lack. At the same time, she trusts other people somewhat easily, which makes the character unbelievable at times.
Even though she’s a property manager rather than a private detective, Tish jumps into the murder investigation rather quickly, fearful that Spence will try to blame Delilah’s death on her. (Apparently she was a suspect in the first book of the series, Bones and Roses. I haven’t read it, which didn’t hurt me in following the action in Swimsuit Body.) While I had no trouble believing that Tish would do everything to prove her brother not guilty, her initial motivation was a little thin for me. And there were so many possible suspects that I had trouble keeping track of everyone in the book. The identity of the killer didn’t surprise me, either.
However, Tish comes across strongly and well as the tent pole of the series, and Goudge has created a fruitful venue for mysteries in Tish’s property management job and in the Cypress Bay community. Tish’s best friend Ivy, Brianna, Spence and Tish’s brother are also vivid characters who will serve the series well.
Goudge began her writing career as a contributor to the Sweet Valley High series, moving on to write the deliciously soapy New York Times bestseller Garden of Lies, and many other bestselling women’s fiction novels. I loved Garden of Lies, as well as the other Goudge novel I read, Woman in Red, which mixes in history and mystery. Now with the "Cypress Bay" series, Goudge proves herself a very unique writer who can modify her voice to meet the demands of a specific plot and genre. This, even more than the sum of her entertaining works, is a singular achievement beyond the ability of most authors.
Thanks to Open Road Media for the book in exchange for an honest review.
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