Sunday, July 22, 2007

Grave Apparel - Ellen Byerrum

Grave Apparel
A Crime of Fashion Mystery
Ellen Byerrum


Every year, they return. No matter how offensive, how ridiculous, how over-the-top; like clockwork, each holiday season they come back. Holiday sweaters. Sweaters with snowmen and gingerbread men and Christmas trees and candy canes. Some of them blink, some of them play music. Some of them are even relatively restrained. But if it’s the holidays, they are virtually inescapable.

Of course, your reaction to theme sweaters may vary. You may love them. You may be indifferent. Cassandra Wentworth, editorial writer for The Eye Street Observer in Washington, DC, and professional martyr, finds them egregiously tasteless, politically incorrect and personally offensive. Her editorial piece to that effect, written with no byline, the better to sling arrows, is making Lacey Smithsonian, the fashion reporter, very unhappy. Not because she loves theme sweaters. No, it’s because everyone simply assumes that, since the subject was fashion, she wrote the piece.

Felicity Pickles, the food editor, is a lover of all themed sweaters. It had to happen, and eventually, Cassandra’s hatred for the sweaters boils over into insults. When Lacey writes a fashion column that does not condemn holiday sweaters, Cassandra accuses her of trying to undermine the editorial. Later, just before the office Christmas party, Lacey finds Cassandra lying unconscious in the alley behind the newspaper office, wearing just such a sweater. A child at the scene tells Lacey that Santa Dude yelled at the lady, hit her over the head with a gigantic candy cane, then dressed her in the sweater, laughing.

Naturally, the police take a dim view of this account, particularly since the kid didn’t stick around to make a statement. The police seem to feel that the kid was in on it, especially since he seems to have stolen Cassandra’s cell phone. Arriving at the Christmas party, Lacey finds Felicity in a sleeveless red dress. It’s quite subdued, really. Felicity tells Lacey that she special-ordered a very special Christmas sweater, left it at her desk, and returned to find it had been stolen. No points for guessing where that sweater ended its evening.

Lacey is a fun character and a great amateur sleuth. Working as a reporter in DC offers plenty of opportunities to get personally involved in crimes. She takes a very realistic view of life, while still remaining fashionable. Her fashion articles are scattered throughout the book, and make for very entertaining reading. Just like a little black dress, you can’t go wrong with a Lacey Smithsonian mystery.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22178-0 (paperback)


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