Sunday, 3 July 2011

Spying In High Heels by Gemma Halliday

This is a book I picked up for five bucks at a newsagency.  I'm so glad that I did. 

LA shoe designer Maddie Springer lives her life by three rules: Fashion.  Fashion.  Fashion.  But when she stumbles  upon the work  of a brutal killer, her life takes an unexpected turn from Manolos to murder.  And things only get worse when her boyfriend disappears - along with $20 million in embezzled  funds - and her every move is suddenly under scrutiny by the LAD's  sexiest cop.  With the help of her post-menopausal bridezilla of a mother, a 300 pound psychic and one seriously oversexed best friend, Maddie finds herself stepping out of her stilettos and onto the trail of a murderer.  But can she catch  a killer before the killer catches up to her? 

The back cover blurb is a teeny bit deceptive, though in a lovely and unexpected way.  Maddie Springer is an LA shoe designer - though she designs kid's shoes.  And her boyfriend does disappear - but not at the same time as the money.  And it is not her lifelong dream to become the next Nancy Drew, she just stumbles blindly into this whole mess trying to find her missing boyfriend Richard. 

There are so many things that I like about this book and the way that it is written that so many other writers try to accomplish and fail.  I like that there is an every-girl candidness about Maddie.  I don't usually like books written in first person, but she has a sassy snark to her inner voice that is terrific - not too bitchy but not too sugary sweet either.  Maddie has real-girl reactions to significant moment in the story, from a pregnancy scare to a dead body.  In both scenarios she panics and freaks out.  Many of us would like to think that we could handle such situations with aplomb - or at least with a witty one-liner and a casual flip of our hair - but we all know we wouldn't.  Much as we would like to.  So while Maddie is bold, stubborn and loyal to a fault, she's not a sickly sweet and unbelievable Mary Sue type or a kick-arse but equally unbelievable urban fantasy heroine with leather trousers.  And a sword.  

Her best friend is apparently a raging nymphomaniac and an actress with regular if erratic work in tiny parts of TV shows that never get seen.  This man-eater has more bed partners than bit parts in low-budget television pilots and earns her crust by teaching aerobics at the local gym.  Despite Dana's cartoony description, she is actually a worldly and well developed character, something that other writers (at least the bad ones) tend to overlook.  I have a feeling that Dana leapt off the page and took on a life of her own, possibly to the bemusement of the author, her personality is so strong.  So the 'best friend' character actually has her own life and a little side plotline all to herself.  She's a funny, enthusiastic and positive foil for Maddie who often had confidence issues during the tale, especially when her boyfriend's apparent second life comes to light and Detective Ramirez starts to show a decided interest in the blonde protagonist.

Which leads me nicely into our male leads.  I have one word for you: Yummy.  One is her wayward boyfriend Richard, whom she believes she might be accidentally pregnant to and is where this whole story starts - Maddie panicking madly because she's, as Maddie puts it 'late'.  The other is the deliciously sexy cop investigating Richard's suspicious disappearance and circumstances, Detective Jack Ramirez.  Maddie thinks he is one of the bad guys to begin with, upon her first sighting of him and treats him as such: with extreme caution.  She runs into him more and more often as their paths criss-cross in their mutal attempts to find the same man, though for very different reasons and despite her horrified guilt with herself, finds herself unable to resist her attraction to the cop.  I absolutely love the self-flagelation that Maddie goes through when she can't get Jack out of her head but suspects she may be pregnant to her boyfriend who she is discovering is Not A Nice Man after all.  

I really, really like the part about going out for her Mum's bachelorette party to a place called 'Beefcakes' (!!!) and accidentally getting drunk on what she thought were non-alcoholic drinks.  Had me giggling all the way through it - the whole of chapter fourteen.  And the aftermath in chapter fifteen.  

There were really only one or two small things that I didn't like and they were so minor it didn't change the fact that I still really like the book, but they are worth a mention since they tended to jar me out of the story and were a wee bit intrusive.  Maddie's devotion to her boyfriend in need is admirable.  It's not often the bloke needs rescuing in one of these mystery novels so it's refreshing to see the girl saving her man.  However - and it is a huge 'however' - the more she finds out about her boyfriend of five months other life, the less I liked him.  If maybe they had been together for several years I could probably understand her reluctance to believe that he would do something stupid or criminal but it's too short of a time.  Some of the things that Richard is mixed up in are pretty nefarious and yet Maddie refuses to see the light.   Even when confronted with a condom wrapper.  
In his office.
Where they have never had sex.
She still makes excuses for this loser.  There are more and worse than that but I won't spoil the story.  Admittedly, Maddie does eventually realise that she is just making excuses for him but that doesn't help her earlier on in the story, she's so blinded by her love for a man who is not worthy of it. 
Meanwhile.  Sexy, honourable and available Jack Ramirez is more than just attracted to her and isn't shy in showing her his interest.  There were times when I wanted to leap into the book, give Maddie a quick slap upside the head, leap back out again and continue reading.  

The only other irritating measure was Maddie's refusal  to take the pregnancy test early on in the story, without her beloved (by which I mean worthless) Richard close at hand.  At first, fair enough, I can understand how she would want the comfort of her partner to be with her when she faces a life changing result.  But as the days drag on  and she all but tortures herself with 'it's still only 'maybe''.  A 'maybe' that could be a 'no' and leave her free to take the good Detective up on his offer for dinner with absolutely no guilt whatsoever!  But no, she leaves herself, and by extension, us, in suspense.  An excellent way to increase plot tension but absolutely maddening to read!  Maddie cites  pure, unadulterated terror at the prospect of becoming a mother preventing her from taking the test and I can probably understand that.  The teeny, tiny apartment she lives in  barely fits her, let alone a child.  Her fear is probably what drives her to find Richard, for moral support in her time of desperation, before taking the plunge.  Personally, not knowing would kill me far faster than any homicidal maniac running around LA.  But that's just me.

Apart from those two minor points, it's a terrifically well written book with a twist at the end that even I didn't see coming (I love those!).  Gemma Halliday gets a standing ovation from me and I look forward to reading the rest of the High Heels series.  (I downloaded some ebooks of hers today, because I can't wait to see what happens next!)


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