Regan Reilly is at it again. While visiting her parents in New York City, the Los Angeles-based PI becomes embroiled in a murder investigation at an old Gramercy Park social institution, the Settlers Club. Two of its most esteemed members die on the same day, in separate circumstances --- one of natural causes, the other in an innocent household mishap. Or did they? When several million dollars worth of diamonds, which were to be pledged to the club, turn up missing at the same time, the club's president, Thomas Pilsner, calls foul play. Then he calls his old friend Regan Reilly to look into the suspicious deaths.
In her fifth Regan Reilly mystery, author Carol Higgins Clark demonstrates her mastery at inserting red herrings and false leads, sending the reader chasing the solution down dead-end avenues. The list of suspects is long and colorful: unique characters from a matchmaking service and an adjacent butlering school, both housed on the club's upper floors, a sometime actress, an eccentric movie producer and his entourage, and a couple of flimflam artists.
Central to the story, and the club's image, is a pair of stuffed sheep, Dolly and Bah-Bah, names reminiscent of Lillian Jackson Brown's Siamese cats KoKo and Yum-Yum. It's easy to draw parallels between Brown's sleuth Jim Qwilleran, with a Q-w, and Clark's Regan Reilly, too. Both are quirky personalities unraveling mysteries that cry out at the end for the next case to come along. Both solve improbable cases with unconventional methods using implausible resources. But, unlike her counterpart in crime solving, PI Reilly exhibits an amplitude of adolescence. She may have achieved adulthood chronologically, but her thoughts and actions bespeak a more childlike person. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn't nearly as mature.
In FLEECED, the emphasis seems to be on catchy names and saccharine sentiment. The myriad characters often engage in overly dramatic gestures, putting the reader in mind of the silent films of the '20s. In the end, the conclusion is unsatisfying. The wrap-up scene is slapstick on paper.
I don't know about others in the Regan Reilly series, but FLEECED is a perfect example of "beach reading." If you like simple plots and ultra light reading, this is a five-star book. If your tastes, like mine, gravitate towards more substance, you may want to consider something more stimulating.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011