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American/Cozy Mysteries

The Marriage Casket, Deborah Morgan, Berkley Prime Crime, $5.99

(out of print, check for used copies at our ABE store).

Another way to view antiques picking is portrayed in Deborah Morgan's snappy Jeff Talbot series - the antiques in this book are a little more highbrow, like Jeff himself, who lives in a Victorian mansion with a butler and his agoraphobic wife. In the second novel, Jeff's wife, Sheila, was kidnaped and taken out of the house. In this novel, she's recovering from the ordeal - she's given up cooking and, as the book begins, won't leave her bedroom (to the frustration of her husband). Morgan adds a new twist to the mix by introducing Sheila's sister, Karen, a raucous photographer who lives out of a suitcase as she travels all over the world. The bracing Karen is like a breath of fresh air for Sheila, and for the reader as well, as the relationship between the sisters is an interesting one. I hope this is a character Morgan plans to keep around.

The mystery is a dandy too - Jeff has bought the contents of an old woman's house from a struggling neighbor for a flat fee - it's up to him to go in the house and excavate the treasure. The old woman, an apparent pack rat who never met a dust rag, is the stuff of an antique picker's dream (she even has some old books, which made me salivate). As Jeff goes through her living room he decides the rug is a valuable one, but as he rolls it up, he finds a blood stain. Formerly an FBI agent, this isn't something he can let slide, and the old woman's previously "normal" death is reexamined and found to be murder. Jeff has to give up the stuff he's taken out as evidence, but one thing he keeps back is a marriage casket (box to you) that's filled with letters from WWII - letters from a dead son to his mother; his mother being the owner of the house Jeff is excavating. Morgan makes this all look easy as she juggles a relationship for Karen, Sheila's excursions downstairs, a cooking mishap, a (somehow) believable butler, and the resentment of another local picker towards Jeff. As the novel draws to its skillful denouement, Morgan has more than laid the groundwork for her surprise ending, and she left me looking forward to her next novel, Four on the Floor, to find out what happens next.

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