This third offering in Hart's DEATH ON DEMAND series has fully received the advantage of repeated features building upon themselves and establishing immediate reader intimacy. I was anticipating (and not disappointed) the repetition of key elements, one of which was the first couple chapters (prior to the entrance of Annie and Agatha) being crisp, brief, chilling dips to the murderous "footprints" in the novel. I don't know if it was because I've come to expect this type of sly entry into Hart's Annie & Max series, or if it's because the author's style has leap-frogged itself, solidifying into better and better types of seasoning... but, the initiating chapters seemed to have zapped up a few levels in mood and intrigue, as chilling stage setters for Annie's warm and perky entrance, which seemed even warmer and perkier than the prior 2 books which were already at what seemed to be peaks of performance.
The anticipated Annie and Max personality mixes moved quickly into cozy entertainment, possibly due to the decrease of tension from earlier struggles toward (and away from) a serious relationship. Sometimes the fun fizzles after the fish is caught. But, in this case, I felt heightened entertainment from the interplay between these two formally engaged characters heading toward a marriage ceremony. It was warming to observe the couple's dance into win/win scenarios, their balancing of each others' foibles, though Max, from my perspective has few if any flaws. If God were to Himself descend to visit the planet, I'd imagine Him in the attitude of Max's easy going nature. The Max Gestalt would fit like a Divine Glove. He not only has confidence, class, and pizzazz; he has endearing vulnerabilities (and no guilt over being wealthy).
I relished Annie's growth into a periodic ability to relax with Max, as it began sinking in that she was no longer fighting their inevitable connection. The drive to "The Great Gatsby Party" at the Petree's was sheer reader luxury, settling into savoring the environmental elegance of Broward's Rock, through Annie's eyes. (Beauty doesn't descend well into the atmosphere of a pushy/shovey cranky mood, though that mood has it's own appeal.) I wondered if, prior to allowing Max into her life as he was destined, as her everything partner, Annie ever fully allowed herself to wallow in the silent beauty of a sunset before it had set, to register a pleasant summer breeze studded with Jasmine and Gardenia, to study puffy clouds drifting in a pale blue sky. Max was so good at loosening Annie's uptight laces, it was easy to miss some of the nuances of his technique.
On the other hand, I enjoyed Annie's ability to easily, even gracefully, sidestep Max's head-for-the-bedroom overtures, and "get to the party on time." I loved the way Annie avoided taking the typical romantic road-fork of not showing up at the party, due to diving onto the mattress, and heating up the sheets. Both Annie and Max relished her gentle (uncommonly) nudge out of the house and into the glorious evening of a gorgeously staged world settled cozily into a rangy resort island.
Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be taken, the party didn't end in divine delight. Hey. This is a mystery, right? Gotta have the "bloody" scene... this time with a false taint slurred at Annie, which made me want to spit fire for her.
The subplot/plot weaving provided more style contrast and mood swing in this third DOD novel:
- We had the dreaded (but humorous) phone calls from Max's mother, Laurel, with attempts to design Annie & Max's wedding into an International, New Age carnival.
- We had the additions of name, title, and plot dropping of Annie's well stocked mystery repertoire, which will be even more interesting to me as I continue reading mysteries and reread this series (at the moment I recognize about 3% of them, yet I continue to appreciate the opportunity to expand my mystery vocab).
- We had the clue conversations over coffee or meals at DOD and Annie or Max's homes.
- We had the more active scenes of getting out there and gathering clues, at risk.
- And we had the ongoing ambiance around rehearsals of the play (Arsenic and Old Lace, which came across very well even to a reader like me, who hasn't read it yet).
Then, of course we had the delight of Henny's shenanigans of acting out various characters in various mysteries, via phone calls, zips through town on her flashy red bicycle, and personal drop-ins to visit Annie at Death on Demand. Through all this, Henny's character was surged (almost to nova) into a zany superwoman. By the end of the book, Henny had turbo-charged out of the muck of being basically an unlikeable but intriguing dud (in the first two books Henny entertained the plot as an irritant adding a bit of spice at her own expense).
Yup. As listed above, this third offering in the DOD series has definitely kicked up a few notches (speaking of which, note the lawyer hilariously toting cliches in his wake) in various types of "zap," mood/scene contrast, action, and intrigue.
The whole shebang heated up nicely as Annie began the chicken-sans-head rush, spinning wheels around Broward Rock in multiple mad dashes to save Max from the evidence frame-up and from the railroading attempt by the dark-cartoon-buffoon, horrifying imitation of Perry Mason (circuit solicitor Brice Willard Posey) attempting to wrap bars around Max's freedom. In this heated spinning, Annie sloughed off Laurel's phone calls, allowing the wedding ceremony's pre-planning acrobatics to get out of hand by way of Laurel's heavenly convolutions (which were Annie's unadulterated nightmares).
Then we also had the sad surprise of the species of the first murder victim, whereas the second corpse was no surprise, and the third murder was ...
The final scene, apres the culprit discovery and apprehension, was truly a bang of a bash, reminding me of Annie's thought about midway into the book, during a pleasant part of a rehearsal scene, about how great she felt being part of "something good." Of course I flashed on the contrast parallel to the title of this mystery, and was reminded of Laurel's off-base comment that Love on Demand would be a better name for Annie's bookstore.
There's LOTS going on in this novel, but it all plays together perfectly through the ongoing reading, and ties together lusciously in the ending chapters. Cheers & stamping feet. Yes!
Definitely a book to buy and read, more than once.
Linda G. Shelnutt