Author:Karen Rose Smith



Following in the well-heeled footsteps of Miss Marple, Nora Charles, and Jessica Fletcher comes Caprice De Luca, who operates a house-staging business in Kismet, York County, Pennsylvania. The largish De Luca clan all live there quietly enough until the husband of one of Caprice’s clients turns up, or rather down, stabbed to death with one of his prized daggers. Caprice, who traditionally has specialized in befriending pets, extends the ambit of her concern to the widow, whom she takes into her home during the pendency of the murder investigation to which she feels impelled to contribute.

While the local fuzz is focusing on the widow as a prime suspect, Caprice pursues other perpetrator possibilities, including the well-dressed owner of the local beauty salon and various colleagues of the victim at his place of employment. To the author’s great credit, I doubt that any reader will guess the identity of the actual killer.

Four generations of De Lucas are portrayed in the course of this mystery novel. Family ties are sufficiently strong to make the planning of a mother’s day and birthday celebration as attention-getting as the murder itself. While life in Kismet, where service establishments bear precious names such as Perky Paws, Curls R Us, Posies, Koffee Klatch, and Peaceful Path Cemetery, where the local doyen of style drives a van right out of Woodstock and refers to draperies as drapes, and where potential lovers sniff each other out on a miniature golf course, may not be everyone’s cup of ginger ale, it seems to suit each and every De Luca just fine.

For someone who professes a preference for un-cluttering, Caprice exhibits a curiously strong affection for fringe, trim, color, and flowers in both home and self decoration. This kitch itch expresses itself most notably when Caprice experiences frustration at not being able to add a Tiffany lamp to a law firm’s offices. If one wonders what Caprice would wear to a funeral and gravesite service, the answer will not be found when she actually attends one for here the usually highly descriptive author goes strangely silent.

To offset Caprice’s noble caring for stray animals and friends in distress, our heroine comes across, at least to this reader, as irritatingly indecisive. On at least four occasions, she weighs and re-weighs the pros and cons of sharing a secret. Her relations with men, past and present, seem more adolescent than adult.

As for writing style, the novel wobbles early on with reference to an antique (rather than antiques) store and to a driveway that is both round and oval. Toward the end, there’s a reference to an “unexpected surprise.” In between, the author micro-manages her story with little selectivity in deciding which details add useful texture rather than mere girth to the book. This is particularly evident in the Home Economics passages which significantly slacken the plot line. The average enthusiast for murder mysteries is apt to be more irritated than tantalized by a detailed description of how to make minestrone. And is it believable that our heroine is so into décor that she would critique a pole lamp that is upturned in the course of an attack on her life?

The pace of the narrative allows plenty of time to analyze other elements of the writing. Clear, straightforward, and realistic it is for sure. On the other hand, the use of a metaphor that has not long worn out its welcome in common parlance would not be a bad idea. The author’s reference to a car’s leaving in a “spit of gravel” was a notable and welcome exception.

The story is told strictly from Caprice’s point of view, thus avoiding any charge of “head-hopping.” However, all rules have exceptions and in one passage slavish adherence to a single POV produced an action on the part of Caprice that was of questionable credibility.

“…she suddenly wondered why he’d decided to ask her out. “Can I ask you something before I accept?”

Sure, if it means that you are going to accept.”

I am. But I’d like to know if you pick up girls often in a grocery store?”

He chuckled, then checked her expression and saw she was serious. “No, I don’t pick up women in grocery stores. Actually I haven’t dated at all since moving here a year ago. Experience has taught me that being a doctor and dating don’t often go well together.”

Because of your hours?”

Because of interruptions. My phone and pager often become hated items by women I’ve dated.”

So why me?”

I guess the very reason that you asked is why I would like to go out with you. You seem really interesting. You like to cook, which is a plus. I like the way you dress, which is unusual. I mean the way you dress, not that I like it. You like animals, and at the top of the list is the fact that you seem to care about everything.”

Wow!” she responded, not knowing what else to say.”

It is important for the reader to understand Seth’s reasons for being interested in Caprice. But the author can’t tell the reader directly what they are for fear of breaking the no-head-hopping rule. Therefore, Caprice has to elicit the reasons from him so that they can be expressed from her POV. The only problem, and it’s a jarring one, is that at this stage of their association, it would be highly unlikely that the cautious and reticent Caprice would do anything of the kind.

The text was well edited with the exception of the chronic further/farther conundrum, and “were v. we’re in one place. It seems that today, a perfectly edited book, like a good man, is hard to find.

There are occasions when the troublesome distinction between the simple past and past perfect verb tenses is illustrated. For example:

So what do you think, Roz?” Vince asked, as the De Luca family—all except their dad, mom, and Nana—sat in Bella’s living room discussing their mother’s birthday.

Caprice had jumped in automatically, ready to protect her friend.”

In the above passage, “asked” and “sat” should be followed by “jumped,” not “had jumped.”

Staged to Death is a good book for those who prefer their yarns crocheted rather than tightly knit.

By the way, in case you were not taking notes during the body of the book, a few recipes are set out at the end. One, for Caprice’s Tuna Cups, calls for chunky light tuna. I prefer to give chunky light to my cats and serve solid white to my guests. I expect that the victim’s widow and mistress in Staged to Death do the same.

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