Josie Prescott returns in the fourth Antiques Mystery by Jane Cleland, Killer Keepsakes. This time an unidentified man shows up in Josie's assistant's apartment. But Josie's assistant, Gretchen is no where to be found. As Gretchen's mysterious past begins to unfold, Josie searches diligently to find Gretchen and bring her home.
As I've mentioned with the other Antiques Mysteries in this series, Josie is a wonderful character. She's so well developed that I can see us sharing tea or gauvatinis; I keep hoping she'll move out of New Hampshire and come buy the house across the street from me. One of the elements of her character that stands out especially prominent in this book is her caretaker tendencies, her motherly tendencies. And just as a mother will do anything for her child, so Josie will do for those who are near and dear to her. Unconditionally. In this short excerpt, the reader can catch a glimpse of the motherly nature in her character:
Mandy was such a sweet girl, spiraling down instead of rising up. Part of me wanted to shake her and ask if she couldn't see how bad Vince was for her. The rest of me wanted to hug her and wish her luck.
Josie is simply one of those people who sees the good in others. She isn't oblivious to the bad, but she also doesn't harp on insignificant things. If you've earned her friendship, she'd go to the ends of the Earth for you. Don't we all know folks like that? They're usually the folks we cherish most in our circles of friends.
On the flip side, Cleland can create an antagonist to make your skin crawl. Vince does just that. He's not an extraordinary villain; he's the bad guy we see too often in too many lives. And that is precisely what makes Cleland's characters come alive for me, the fact that I am able to visualize them in my own life. None of them have super powers - they can't stop speeding bullets with their over-developed pectorals - instead they possess characteristics like you and I. They could be devoted or obsessive or self-conscious or intelligent. Those characteristics make them palpable; they make them real.
Cleland's characters are realistic in another element as well. They help solve the mysteries using the talents God and education gave them, not amazing talents they magically develop in 15 chapters. Josie and team do not outsmart the police. Instead they work in tandem with the police AND the journalists. Everyone does what they do best. How refreshing not to have an incompetent, idiot police force!
But character isn't the only element of this novel that shines. The plot is outstanding. Every time I would think I had outsmarted Cleland and knew how the conclusion would play out, Josie would discover something that nipped my idea right in the bud. The nipping usually ended up happening on the very next page even. And when those discoveries were taking place, they were adding layers to the mystery, complexity to the plot. When some books attempt to do this the result is overbearing. The reader thinks, "good lord, what more can this poor character have to endure." But Killer Keepsakes builds complexity that pulls the reader further into the plot and the lives of the characters.
As I've come to expect from Cleland, the writing in Killer Keepsakes breathes life into the plot, the setting, the characters. Sometimes it even steals color right out of a character's cheeks: "She looked petrified, as if she were losing ground in a race against the devil." And Cleland doesn't need to be verbose, in a simple sentence like "I was in-my-bones upset" the message comes across loud and clear.
For a couple of days I stepped into Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and wrapped myself in the mystery of Gretchen's disappearance. It was time very well spent with friends I adore. Again, I begrudgingly waved good-bye as the wind chimes on Prescott's door bid me a fond farewell, and I found myself hoping it wouldn't be my final visit.
Killer Keepsakes is available in bookstores today.