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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
How to Crash a Killer Bash: A Party-Planning Mystery - Penny Warner An interesting study in how some peoples' "interesting, fun" character can be someone else's "annoying twit."

Presley Parker is a party planner...excuse me, "event planner." Her latest gig is a fund raiser for San Francisco's de Young art museum. The event is a murder mystery party. Presley, her best friend Delicia, museum bigwig Mary Lee Miller, Mary Lee's son Jason, along with several others, play the part of sleuths in a game where party guests are recruited to help solve a made-up murder mystery. Abrasive, obnoxious, but terribly rich Mary Lee plays the role of victim. Mary Lee portrays the part to a tee, ending up as a stone cold corpse, killed by a knife to the back.

Delicia is dating Mary Lee's son, Corban, and Mary Lee was none-too-happy about the matter. Just a half hour before the Mary Lee's death, she and Delicia argued and Delicia jokingly threatened to kill Mary Lee. SFPD's finest pounce on this bit of circumstantial evidence and immediately throws Delicia in jail. It's up to Presley to clear Delicia's name and not get herself killed in the process.

How to Crash a Killer Bash is a cute, fluffy, and easy-to-read mystery. The sort that one might take on holiday for a bit of very light--read "feather light"--beach reading. It traverses the well-tread path of slightly ditzy heroine whose pursuits always seem to land her smack dab in the middle of a murder.

In general the characters are two-dimensional. Presley's scenes with her mother, however, are infused with an odd poignancy, as her mother has early stage Alzheimer's. (The inclusion of the Alzheimer's story line almost seems too heavy for the series's chirpy tone.)

Presley, I imagine, is supposed to be cute, vivacious, and impulsive. I found her dimwitted and often annoying.

At the beginning of the story, Presley is scoping out the museum, when she is interrupted by a guard name Sam Woo. Sam proceeds to yammer about the market in counterfeit and stolen artifacts, which is a huge info dump, pointless and rather dull. (Seriously. This is where the author's agent or editor should have said, "Yo, your character just took a steaming info-dump in chapter one. Clean it up." But I digress.)

The problem is that Presley is shocked and amazed by this information. Like it never occurred to her that someone might decide to profit from selling priceless artifacts.

Presley, btw, has degree in Abnormal Psychology and once held a teaching position at the local college. Despite being a degreed professional, she doesn't seem to know anything about anything. Except abnormal psychology. Which she tells us, ad nauseam.

Brad, the hunky crime-scene-cleaner, is the love interest. Presley is amazed when he removes the glass pane from an old window to help her break into a house. A-mazed. She is also amazed by his knowledge of car repair, and the technical aspects of his job. All his expertise, she thinks, means he must have some deep, dark mysterious past.


Because I know that old windows are held in place with glazing. And that they are easy to remove, especially if the house hasn't had any regular maintenance. I know how brakes work. I can do a lot with duct tape. I know a lots of stuff, some useful, some not so much. Because...I'm a adult who's...lived. Nothing about Brad's knowledge or skills would indicate that he was some Man of Mystery. There's nothing to suggest that he's very extraordinary at all. Unless you're twelve, maybe.

Then there's her "affliction." She has ADHD and OCD. At one point, she claims it's a handicap and compares it to Asperger Syndrome. Again--Really? Worse yet, none of her traits--ADHD, her education--really ever come into play in the story. Sure, she's impulsive. So are most protagonists. Her "ability" to analyze people based on their footwear doesn't even make it to cute schtick. Because it adds nothing to the narrative.

The neat thing about protagonists in cozy mysteries is that they are often interesting people that one might like to know in real life. It's what makes cozy mysteries fun. Presley, with the intellectual depth of a thimble and obsessive need to whine about her ADHD, would be a smashing bore.

I may try some of Warner's other books, but I won't be returning to this series.