Title: Bad Publicity
Author: Joanne Sydney Lessner
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Jen Blood. To read more of Jen’s reviews, visit her website at http://jenblood.com/.
Quirky, hapless aspiring actress Isobel Spice returns this month in Joanne Sydney Lessner’s latest murderous romp, Bad Publicity. The second novel in Lessner’s Temporary Detective series, Bad Publicity finds would-be actress Isobel Spice once again in the middle of a murder investigation, this time when she’s temping at Dove & Flight Public Relations– a job she got through an old school friend who is soon a central suspect in the investigation. Isobel, of course, is the first to find the victim’s body– and the last to serve the man coffee, which she immediately fears may have been poisoned.
From there, it’s a natural leap for Isobel to begin her own investigation into the murder, which in short order leads to a second suspicious death. Meanwhile, Isobel’s boss– and as-yet-unspoken romantic interest — James Cook, struggles with sobriety, his growing attraction to Isobel, and no small number of demons when it becomes clear that he had his own reasons for wanting the first murder victim dead.
There is, of course, a subplot involving Isobel’s quest for footing in her career on the stage, as well as a budding romance with a British composer and no shortage of winning asides between Isobel and her fellow acting pals, Sunil and Delphi. In other words? There’s a lot going on in this novel. Author Lessner balances the plots and subplots with aplomb. Bad Publicity maintains the humor, quirks, and well-paced mystery that defined The Temporary Detective (the first novel in the series), while simultaneously deepening our understanding of Isobel and James as characters. Lessner does a wonderful job of keeping Isobel’s quirks and occasionally hapless appeal, but this time out clearly demonstrates the aspiring actress’s competence in both the theatre and the secretarial pool.
At the same time, the storyline featuring James as he continues to struggle with his sobriety and the challenge of determining the man he wants to be sans alcohol is once again a surprisingly realistic, dark portrait of that journey. The tenuous friendship between Isobel and James is charged with sexual tension, but Lessner writes both characters with such a deft hand that I frequently find myself torn between cheering for these two to get together, and just wanting James to get himself on an even keel enough to move forward with his own life first. It’s a testament to any author when they’re able to create characters so compelling that the reader becomes actively invested in their well-being, and Lessner has done that in spades.
The mystery itself in Bad Publicity has a number of unexpected twists, and managed to keep me guessing until the end. Cozies are not generally my genre of choice, but Lessner’s brand of cozy is another animal entirely: one driven by intriguing, frequently complex characters, whip-smart dialogue, captivating romance, great pacing, and a mystery that will have you flummoxed until the end. A novel that will appeal to fans of both the traditional cozy and mysteries with more weight, Bad Publicity is definitely one mystery fans won’t want to miss.
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