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American/Cozy Mysteries

Murder of a Barbie and Ken, Denise Swanson, Signet, $5.99.

Murder of a Barbie and Ken by Denise Swanson

"If brains were chocolate, he wouldn't have enough to fill an M&M." - from Murder of a Barbie and Ken

This is a book by a writer completely comfortable with her genre, her setting, her characters, and an ever more budding sense of humor. Swanson is practically the only cozy writer I read, and I think I'm hopelessly hooked - her characters are so decent and so funny and so real, I look forward eagerly to each new installment. In this one, main character/school psychologist Skye Dennison is trying to fit into the more traditional social life of the town she lives in, Scumble River, Illinois, by joining the ladies' auxiliary of the male version of the group her boyfriend belongs to. The GUMBS - The Grand Union of the Mighty Bulls - has a ladies auxiliary called the Bettes, and as the story opens, Skye is unhappily being dressed in wallpaper as a kind of horrible party game at the house of the Queen Bette, Barbie - who is, of course, married to Ken. If you don't appreciate any of the humor or irony in the aforementioned scenario, don't even pick up the book, but if you do, read on, because it's nothing but a pleasure from start to finish.

As Skye comes home from a gruesome ladies meeting experience, where not only was she dressed in wallpaper but she's been "pleasantly" coerced by Barbie into joining the food plan she sells, she's confronted by someone on her front steps in the middle of a snowstorm. The someone, a woman dressed like a Vegas go-go dancer, turns out to be none other than the estranged mother of Skye's boyfriend, Simon. Because of the storm, there's nowhere else for Bunny (the mother) to stay. Skye reluctantly takes her into her tiny cottage, over the strenuous objections of both her mother and Simon. The story really hits the ground running, and when Barbie and Ken are murdered and Skye finds the bodies, there's no where else to go but along with Skye as she figures out whodunit.

Skye is fairly believably folded into the murder investigation at the request of some of the GUMBS, but she's becoming a bit like Jessica Fletcher - very dangerous to know! For such a small town, Scumble River has a very high body count. Swanson includes her trademark touches that make this series a standout - among them, details of Skye's life as a school psychologist, and her relationships with her parents and brother (this book even includes a holiday meal scene - excellent). There's a reason this author becomes more popular with each book - don't miss out on the fun.

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