The third book in the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery series begins not with Kiki finding a body, but with her 12-year-old daughter Anya doing so. Anya heard something in the balcony at school, and when she and a friend went to look, they discovered Sissy Gilchrist’s body. Kiki is determined to force open the closed ranks of the private prep school and find out why the teacher died, even if the secrets go back a generation or more.
Kiki has been living under struggling circumstances ever since her husband George was killed. That was the first mystery she helped solve, and while her life has changed completely, she continues to use her strong personality and values to help others. In this case, there is the added fear that the murderer thinks Anya saw something, so Kiki hurries to talk to anyone she can think of who may know something, even when she starts receiving threats to stop.
An African American teacher is arrested for the murder, simply because he had a relationship with the unpopular deceased woman. The accused is a friend of Kiki’s ex-boyfriend cop, who she has been avoiding since learning about his wife in the previous book, CUT, CROP & DIE. The killing keeps bringing them together, though, and Kiki fights constantly against her attraction to him. These romantic tendencies may irritate some readers, but they help make Kiki a three-dimensional character with weaknesses.
In between visits to the school archives looking for clues and driving her daughter to golf practice, Kiki works full time at Time in a Bottle, a scrapbooking store. There she runs crops and helps manage the store with co-worker Bama, while their boss and owner Dodie undergoes surgery for cancer. At some of the crops, parents of Anya’s classmates come in and gossip, and there Kiki learns about long-simmering resentments over debutante balls and elite echelons in St. Louis society. While Anya is able to attend the school thanks to her grandmother’s money, Kiki has to talk to many parents and school officials to understand the picture of the past and how it affects the present.
Kiki is also given a secret divorce scrapbook to work on under lock and key, which pictures jewelry and assets of a wife determined to get her share. Something about it looks familiar, but she needs the money too much to question it. Another photo triggers connections to the events --- of a parent Kiki knows from the school in a civil rights protest. Soon she realizes that everyone connected has a secret or a prejudice to hide. Putting together the reasons and pieces proves more difficult and dangerous than designing a scrapbook, but this situation too has to come together. When she is run off the road while on her bike, Kiki knows she must hurry to solve the case before she or Anya gets seriously hurt.
While the scrapbooking elements give this mystery a fun and creative atmosphere, the plot is intricate and fascinating. Real history is intertwined with fiction to make a layered, believable adventure. There is nothing cute about this cozy mystery, though fans of scrapbooking will enjoy that extra element. Instead, readers will find realistic characters and plenty of tension to keep pages turning right until the end. Award-nominated author Joanna Campbell Slan’s series continues to be strong.
Reviewed by Amy Alessio on January 18, 2011