The appearance of a new Amanda Pepper novel is always welcome.
Anthony Award-winning author Gillian Roberts has gently but
skillfully evolved her creation over the course of several novels,
molding Pepper into a credible character in improbable situations.
Pepper is a full-time high school English teacher and part-time
private investigator. The latter occupation is performed with her
fiancé, C.K. Mackenzie (the initials, we are informed, don't
stand for anything other than C.K.). Amanda and C.K. are fish of
separate species out of different ponds. Mackenzie is a Louisiana
transplant who runs a private investigation service in
Philadelphia, while Pepper is a lifelong resident of the City of
Brotherly Love. It is an interesting combination, and when their
diverse backgrounds bring them into conflict, it more often than
not results in warmth instead of sparks.
CLAIRE AND PRESENT DANGER continues the name-game play on words
that Roberts initiated a couple of novels back. The Claire in this
case is Claire Fairchild, an aristocratic matron in declining
health whose son, Leo, is engaged to Emmie Cade. No one knows a
thing about Cade --- itself a serious faux breach of Philadelphia
society etiquette --- and the worries of the elderly Mrs. Fairchild
are compounded when she begins receiving anonymous letters,
indicating that her erstwhile daughter-in-law doesn't have just a
skeleton in her closet but rather whole graveyards full. Mrs.
Fairchild hires Mackenzie's firm to investigate Cade's past. Though
the grand dame seems at first to be merely a worrisome busybody,
Pepper finds that Cade's past seems to be marked by a sequence of
mysterious deaths, name changes, and disappearances.
Just when Pepper and Mackenzie are about to present their findings
to Mrs. Fairchild, however, the dowager passes, apparently of
natural causes. Mackenzie feels that the agency has done its job,
and since the client is dead, the matter should come to an end.
Pepper, however, is certain that Mrs. Fairchild has been murdered,
and was murdered because of the investigation that she initiated.
Pepper finds out she is right...and wrong. She has trouble
convincing Mackenzie of any intervention until help arrives ---
from a most unexpected source.
CLAIRE AND PRESENT DANGER is a very well done drawing room mystery
novel that sustains reader interest from the first page to the
last. Roberts does an excellent job of balancing and conflicting
Pepper's personal and both of her professional lives, while keeping
the plot of the story memorable and the narrative moving ever so
gradually forward. Roberts also manages to draw a parallel between
events in the life of one of Pepper's students and Pepper's own
past without making it too much of a stretch. An important
milestone for Pepper and Mackenzie also occurs in this novel, as
does the introduction of at least one character with the potential
for significant appearances in the future.
CLAIRE AND PRESENT DANGER is ultimately a milestone in the Amanda
Pepper series, and is a must-read not only for readers who have
been with the series from the beginning, but also for those who are
ready to jump on for future journeys.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011