by Sparkle Hayter
It violates some small rule of the genre to pick up a novel somewhere in the middle of a series of mysteries without having read the previous installments. It isn't really a test of the book for it to stand alone, because, within such a series, no book is really expected to stand alone. It is, however, a bonus if it can. Anyway, it isn't a point on which to critique a book of this kind fairly if the reader senses that there is plenty of backstory missed from the earlier volumes (in this case, four earlier books). That is certainly the case with this reader and this zippy mystery novel (published in 2000) set in the legendary Chelsea Hotel of New York City.
So, we meet Robin Hudson and soon have enough references to her earlier adventures to know that we have to get used to the idea of not knowing (unless we drop this book here and go back to read the others). We do know that she has the unlucky habit of coming across dead bodies. The author, however, tries to clean that up a bit by having Robin's apartment go up in flames on the first page, thereby erasing much of her immedieate history as she breaks camp to take up temporary residence in a small apartment at the Chelsea. Now, we know the Chelsea has a long and colorful history, and Hayter plays with that history in this mystery, which begins on the very night Robin arrives. First, a mysterious young man is banging on the door in the wee hours of the morning. Later that same morning, a young woman arrives, looking to meet up with her lover. It soon becomes clear that Nadia and her beau are running off together from the oppressions of her Eastern European background. Robin is determined to help Nadia make her connections. Things only get complicated when a body falls across Robin's threshold.
What ensues is a rush across the New York landscape, meeting up with odd characters and odd situations, including a bevy of cake-baking nuns and a lavish party in an aging artist's atelier on the 10th floor of the Chelsea. The New York-ishness of this story is characteristically quirky and Hayter tells a funny and intricate tale. Many of the people Robin encounters are friends with the woman whose apartment she is staying in. Tamayo is traveling the world, at the moment, and it seems as if one good honest phone call with her could clear up many of the details of this mystery. But it helps that Tamayo isn't easy to get a hold of, even in email. On top of that, both Nadia and the young man trying to find her are extremely cagey about their entanglements and origins. Again, if they only had one honest conversation, the mystery would have been solved in the second chapter. This is a weakness to this otherwise perky and entertaining novel, but it is also a common plot device in mystery novels. Hayter knows the Chelsea and instills this novel with its atmosphere and artistic promiscuity. It is still a world a year and more before 9/11 changed everything about New York, and the book has a curious innocence because of that. Robin's musings on modern romance, too, are engaging, as she reads and critiques the kind of book, Man Trap, that purports to guide women into snaring and keeping the perfect man. Ultimately, these threads come together, and the reader is tempted to go back and start the Robin Hudson mysteries from the beginning.
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See Also: [Inside the Dream Palace, by Sherill Tippins]
[Other Mystery and Suspense Books]
[Other books by Women Authors]