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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Scene Stealer by Elise Warner

Scene Stealer by Elise Warner
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length Full Length (174 pgs)
Heat Level: sweet
Rating: 4 books
Reviewed by Edelweiss

After a chance encounter on the subway, Miss Augusta Weidenmaier, a retired schoolteacher living in New York's Greenwich Village, is determined to help the police in the search for missing nine-year-old child actor Kevin Corcoran. Never mind that she has no training in law enforcement—she spent decades teaching. She knows when someone is lying.

Once set upon a course of action, the indomitable Miss Weidenmaier cannot be swayed—or intimidated. Facing down megalomaniacal business executives, stuck-up celebrities, pushy stage mothers and a rabble-rousing talk show host, Miss Weidenmaier will stop at nothing—not even the disapproval of one Lieutenant Brown of the NYPD, who does not take kindly to amateur sleuthing—to bring young Kevin home.

Augusta Weidenmaier is a retired schoolteacher who has a chance encounter with a kidnapped child and then responds by trying to solve the crime. Think of an Americanized Miss Marple set loose in New York’s off-off Broadway theater scene. The police detective assigned to the kidnapping does not appreciate the extra help, and he and his department do all they can to impede her progress.

This story has novelty attraction with staying power because it’s a curious meld of serious mystery and a kind of slapstick comedy. Part of the slapstick comes from the large and varied cast of characters. The characterizations are a real strength aspect of this book—very well done -- but they are so pronounced in type and garish in their projection of themselves that you can’t help smiling as you read through their dialogue.

The prose is another strength aspect: spirited and lively, a fast moving read — but not without some good figures of speech.

The dialogue is just as lively, but it is also the book’s main weakness. Many of the monologues — especially those of some minor characters — are too longwinded to be credible. The author seems impatient about getting the story out, and so we have various supporting characters and suspects, falling all over themselves to gush out information of use to Miss Weidenmaier. Few of these characters know anything about discretion.

Yet for all the plot energy careening toward the denouement, some of the early scenes lack tension. They don’t all engage well and some contribute little to the excitement we feel later on.

But overall, Scene Stealer is a solid story and a worthwhile read. The mystery has some unusual twists, and Miss Weidenmaier is a jewel of a leading character.