IF LOOKS COULD KILL is a juicy, tell-all, insider's look at the true world of fashion. Okay, that was a bit of misdirection on my part. IF is not a true story. IF is a piece of fiction. In fact, IF is a mystery about misdirection.
Living in the city (NYC --- is there any other?), Bailey Weggins is an irreverent, seemingly independent gal forging a life and a career as a true crime reporter for Gloss, a leading woman's magazine. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Intrigue. Models. Fashion.
Author Kate White, who in her "other life" is the editor of Cosmopolitan, brings to IF LOOKS COULD KILL an insider's point-of-view: a lifetime of experience in publishing and, specifically, great insight into the world of women's magazines. She accessorizes her story with enough mouthwatering, dishy details about tempers, egos, and personalities that one can't help but wonder who from her own career inspired the cast of characters. And there's more than a handful of fashion do's and don'ts thrown in with, one suspects, a wink of White's eye and a nod at the humor she finds in her own profession. As if that's not enough to pique your interest and keep the pages turning, keep in mind that it's just the backdrop for a murder.
Bailey's egomaniacal editor --- and friend --- the oh-so-catty Cat Jones, enlists Bailey's inquisitive mind to help uncover the whys and hows of her nanny's death by chocolate. Who would kill her unassuming nanny? Was Cat the true intended victim? Has Cat's husband been unfaithful? Has Cat been unfaithful? Is someone trying to kill the editors of Manhattan's top magazines? Do you believe what Kate Moss was wearing at the last Versace show? (Oops, sorry, I was caught up in the moment.)
As Bailey pokes into the past of Cat's live-in babysitter, we meet an eclectic, and often funny group of folks:
• a fashion editor whose right hand has a death grip on the key to the magazine's overflowing fashion closet and whose main concern is her possibly padded expense account.
• a retired chief editor who looks down her Dame Edna-ish nose at the smutty articles Gloss features and who longs for the days of a good pot roast recipe.
• a requisite gay neighbor. It's the Village. Need I say more?
• a fat, sweaty cliché-of-a-cop, who serves as just another excuse to deride the fashion-impaired.
• an unappreciated but very talented coworker whose physical description brings to mind the Pippy Longstockings of my youth.
And a host of other quirky voices and faces. Suspects and motives are many. There are enough people holding grudges against Cat to fill a generously-sized Monica Lewinsky-designed handbag, if that's fashionable. As a result, misdirection abounds. Other editors die or are threatened. Surprising affairs are uncovered, raising questions of intent. Innocents are revealed to be gold-digging opportunists. Gold-digging opportunists are revealed to be, well, gold-digging opportunists, of course. And chocolate chip cookies and rare varieties of delectable mushrooms become dangerous weapons. Really.
White's publishing experience was the given well from which she drew most of her story, but it's clear that she did her research on a few other fronts in order to round out Bailey's life. First and foremost, Bailey's own publishing penchant: true crime. Throughout the book, she is working on a story about a family who swears they are haunted by a pesky poltergeist. Enter Dr. Jack Herlihy, a psychologist who knows a thing or two about teens and similar occurrences. It's Herlihy that turns her on (in more ways than one, but more about that later) to the staple of all good magic. Yes, that's right. Misdirection. It's at this point that Bailey starts to put all the pieces in the nanny murder together like so many Saks sweater sets.
White does a commendable job of revealing Bailey's inner voices. Not only do we hear the mystery unravel in her head, but we are privy to her personal dilemmas as well. She is every woman who has ever found herself back on the dating market after a painful divorce. Who amongst us hasn't asked the big first date question, "should I wear that tight, short skirt that shows off my, um, assets?" Bailey is torn between two men: the roguishly handsome K. C., who pops up for booty calls but not for much more, and Jack Herlihy, the sensitive, attractive doctor who isn't her usual type. More misdirection. Each time we think she's seeing K. C. for who he really is, she deludes herself into thinking otherwise, investing too much in some small gesture of his. Likewise, with Jack, she reads the signals wrong or second-guesses his and her own actions. Despite Bailey's strength and persistence, she proves to be a vulnerable character, well drawn by White.
Ultimately, Bailey prevails, solving the mystery and teasing us with the promise of a new romance at book's end. But does Bailey Weggins have what it takes to carry a series? Read for yourself. I wouldn't want to misdirect you.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on May 1, 2003