Barbara Michaels is at her best in this enjoyable mystery, weaving together all the elements that have made her novels in both pseudonyms so very popular.
The book opens as Karen Nevitt arrives at her Georgetown uncle and aunt's house, as they are leaving on vacation. Karen has just been dumped by her husband of ten years, who is marrying his svelte, efficient, pretty teenage secretary. Karen, who is twenty nine, somewhat overweight, and has been stuck in a doormat routine for many years, feels ashamed to meet the friends (and former boyfriends) who are still in Georgetown. She tries to avoid her old boyfriend Mark (who warned her against marrying her husband), but ends up befriending his sister Cheryl.
She takes a small job looking after a friend's antique shop, but soon becomes sucked into the world of vintage clothing. A distant relative allows her to purchase an assortment of old valuable dresses, and soon old ladies are selling their dresses, veils, and slips to Karen. Soon she and Cheryl are starting their own business, with some very rare items. Additionally, Mark and a handsome cop are both becoming quite attentive.
But someone is after an item among Karen's newly-bought things. One of the crumpled old dresses hides more than mold and dust, a secret that someone is willing to kill to keep hidden.
This book is enjoyable on levels other than just a ripping good murder mystery. It also shows Karen's evolution from a dull housewife with low self-esteem and a stagnant marriage, to an independent woman with newly-found courage and a rising business. Her relationship with her husband starkly contrasts with Mark's, as one is mindless and unemotional and the other is smart and respectful. It can also be seen as Karen's evolution into a more assured person, as she learns to "fight back."
Karen and Cheryl are excellent foils for each other, with enough similarities to make then sisters in all but blood, but different enough that they are not redundant. Mark is vintage Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels: Funny, sweet, sexy, attractive, with just enough crabbiness to make him real. There are also the two socialites, snotty Shreve and dead-eyed Miriam. A couple of creepy widows. And, of course, the rotten little dog Alexander who takes a bite out of any available legs.
This is an immensely enjoyable book, one of my favorite mysteries. I strongly urge anyone to read it.