Sunday, July 10, 2016

Review: I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason by Susan Kandel

I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason (A Cece Caruso Mystery #1)
By: Susan Kandel
Publisher: Harper Collins


Cece Caruso, vintage clothing fashionista and lover of classic mysteries, should be in her element facing the looming deadline to turn in her sixth manuscript -- a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, lawyer, author, and mostly famously, the creator of Perry Mason. But her subject eludes her, and in search of inspiration to bring the object of her latest tome to life, she seeks inspiration from the "hard case" letters in his archives -- the incarcerated seeking his help. One case catches her eye -- Joe Albucco, convicted of killing his wife Jean on the night of their first anniversary. He claims he's innocent, and according to notations in Gardner's files, he remembered the inmate's name, but never followed through. If she can solve the case, the Gardner-related anecdote could be an inspired finish to her book. But unearthing the truth behind the decades-old murder case uncovers a web of conspiracy that threatens to make Cece's first investigative effort her last.

This book is total Ruth catnip: a vintage clothing and mystery loving sleuth? I am so in. The first installment of the Cece Caruso mysteries is an appealing mix of chick lit sensibilities sprinkled with classic mystery trivia, this time focusing on the classic pulp era that birthed Perry Mason. It's clear that Kandel loves her subject matter, as she peppers the narrative with facts and trivia from Erle Stanley Gardner's life and career. I loved the brief historical overview, as while I'm familiar with Perry Mason thanks to cable television re-runs, I knew next to nothing about the creator of the classic sleuth.

Cece possesses a likeable voice, and I really liked the focus on a more mature heroine (she's thirty-nine) with an appreciation for classic mysteries that rivals my own. While her running commentary is often slyly humorous, its occasional lack of focus left me skim-reading rather than wholly focused and absorbed by the prose. However, much is forgiven thanks to Cece's passion for vintage fashion and her affinity for classic novels and film...hers is a unique and fascinating career, one that is at once both wish fulfillment and the perfect vehicle around which to craft a quirky set of light mysteries.

I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason is a fun and diverting, if unevenly paced mystery offering. I really enjoyed the general mystery -- I love stories that involve decades of dark family secrets, ha! -- and the series concept has a lot of potential. I just wish more care had been taken with the pacing and plotting of the investigation. There is a lot of set up regarding the crime's history, exploring potential perpetrators and their motives, while the ultimate resolution takes all of two or three pages. But if, like me, you are looking for a frothy, mindlessly entertaining diversion, this cozy chick lit flavored mystery may be the perfect solution. I'm not in a rush to continue following Cece's adventures, but I enjoyed this offering enough to add book two to my Amazon wishlist...and as it has a Nancy Drew theme, at some point I expect I won't be able to resist it!

About the book:

I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason is the debut novel in a hip, sexy, smart and, yes, cozy mystery series with a great hook. Think Sex and the City collides with Murder, She Wrote.

All that writer Cece Caruso really wants to do is complete her biography of mystery legend Erle Stanley Gardner, find a vintage 1970s Ossie Clark gown to add to her collection, and fix the doorknob on her picturesque West Hollywood bungalow. Then a chance visit with a prison inmate who knew Gardner lands her right in the middle of a 40–year–old murder and another case where the blood is still warm. In fact, Cece finds the body. This brings her into irresistible contact with her inner personal sleuth and shows how crime and greed can reverberate through several generations of a single family.

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