Kudos to Sheila Lowe for giving us a new mystery series with an entirely fresh and new story line. Claudia Rose is a forensic handwriting analyst who is often called in to assist the police - both to identify handwriting as belonging to a specific individual as well as to give insight into the actual character, personality and current mental state of an individual who has penned a specific item.
The story opens with Claudia and her best friend, Kelly Brennan, attending the funeral of their old friend, Lindsey Alexander, an influential PR maven who worked with many of Hollywood's elite. The three women had been very close at one time, but had had a falling out years earlier, and while Claudia still did occasional handwriting analysis for Lindsey, the three were no longer on friendly terms. Lindsey's death had been deemed a suicide, but Claudia and Kelly overhear an interesting conversation at the funeral that plants a seed of doubt, and at the reception following the funeral, Claudia is approached by Ivan Novak, Lindsey's business manager, asking her to prove that the suicide note hadn't been written by Lindsey - as he is convinced she was murdered.
Claudia decides to take the case but uncovers a WHOLE lot more than she bargained for regarding Lindsey's very messy past and a host of deviant sexual practices (including child sexual abuse, kiddy porn, bestiality, and S&M among many of Lindsey's rich and powerful clients). When Ivan is attacked trying to pass along some information to Claudia, the entire story shifts into high gear and it becomes crystal clear that Claudia herself is in extreme danger - so much so, that even the talents of LAPD Detective Joel Jovanic might not be enough to keep her safe.
Ms. Lowe's forensic handwriting series promises us exciting new mysteries in the scientific slash police procedural vein. The plot is well written and the characters believable. This reader is definitely keeping an eye out for Written in Blood, the second book in the series!
For some reason heading into this book I was under the belief that it was a cozy mystery. Don't know where I get that initial impression, but I was wrong. Nothing real cozy about this book. Even Miss Marple would blush at a couple scenes.
Lindsey Alexander is not a very nice person, so when her body is found floating in her hot tub there are not many tears shed. She had made a name for herself as a publicist to the rich and famous, had few friends, and had no problem bedding and blackmailing anyone that could advance her career. But when her body is found next to a supposed suicide note, her friend Claudia, who just happens to be a forensic handwriting expert decided to do some investigating on her own.
Overall the plot is quiet lacking, no characters that are likable and stand out above the others, but the handwriting analysis is fascinating. Lowe, who is a handwriting analyst herself explains the different loops and swirls and what they says about the person who is doing the writing. If only I didn't have to read this whole book to get the insight into handwriting analysis.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it isn't a book I'd highly recommend. The forensic handwriting trivia was certainly interesting, but the plot was a bit convoluted. The characters weren't especially engaging or well-developed. Usually, when I read a book like this, I have a picture in my mind of what the characters look like, but these people never really came alive for me. I'll read more by the author - perhaps her writing will improve with additional books.
I have 2 gripes about the book, 1 major and 1 very minor. The minor: for some reason, it really bugged me every time the detective/love interest called Claudia (the handwriting specialist) - a graphologist - "grapho lady". It just seemed forced - it's not a familiar term and it just doesn't seem plausible that anyone would call her that out of the blue. It seemed more like a cutesy in-joke for all those graphologists out there.
The major gripe: the editor needs to pay a LOT more attention to the continuity in the story. It's like watching a movie and seeing an actor wearing a black shirt in a scene, then suddenly seeing him wearing a blue shirt. More than once, I found myself backtracking to find out what I'd missed - only to discover that I hadn't missed anything... changes had just been skipped over completely. For example: (I'll try not to give anything away here...) a car is damaged (broken glass) and the police are examining it. No mention of getting it fixed or having it towed or getting a rental - the character is just driving it again the next time she needs to drive somewhere. Another example: Claudia is in her home and answers the phone. When she reacts to something the caller says, she's outside on her back porch. Very jarring.
Not great, not bad.
This was a nice read! I found the story interesting - you were kept guessing who the murderer was. Also, the friendship angle was really a nice touch. Can't wait to read the next one in the series!
Good book, but really not a cozy because it crosses the line in both too much sex, and the murders do not occur off stage, the author is too descriptive with the gore of the bodies. But that is just fine with me. I dont have to read just cozies. It does fit the cozy genre in the sense that the sleuth is female and the love interest is a police officer, and the gimmick of the job, in this case hand writing analyzer, to help solve the murder.
It really made me wonder what my handwriting states about me. I am not sure if I want to know.
First Line: "No, girlfrien'."
Publicist-to-the-stars Lindsey Alexander was ruthless. She was a backstabber. She was a manipulator of the first degree. When her nude body is found in a Jacuzzi with a suicide note nearby, former friend Claudia Rose is dumbfounded. Lindsey is the last person she would expect to commit suicide. Lindsey just had too much fun making other people suffer. When Lindsey's business manager hires Claudia to prove that Lindsey did not write the suicide note, the forensic handwriting expert finds herself up to her eyeballs in danger.
Although I sometimes have a tough time reading a book that centers around a thoroughly nasty murder victim, I had no problem turning the pages of Poison Pen. There are several reasons for this. One, I've been interested in handwriting analysis since I was in the eighth grade and helped my English teacher grade handwritten papers. (I was the only person who could read one particular student's handwriting.) As I read each person's paper, I began to pair certain characteristics of their writing to their personalities. I still do that today, although handwriting can certainly be much more difficult to find! Now that you know this, it would be easy for you to surmise that I enjoyed the fact that Claudia Rose is a forensic handwriting expert.
I also liked the fast pace of the book and the setting of southern California, but to me the best part of the book was Lowe's characterizations. I liked Claudia Rose. This character has just the right blend of intelligence, naivete, and willingness to take a risk. She also has a smart mouth from time to time, which is a plus. (At least to me!)
I don't know how many times I've read scenes when the amateur sleuth is being grilled by the police, and I've wanted to add my own smart-mouth commentary. I didn't have to when I read this book:
"She rolled her eyes. "Have you seen the amount of blood in there, Columbo?"
"You know, Ms. Rose, you might want to consider changing your attitude. At the very least, you're a witness at a serious crime, and I expect you to explain yourself, not smart off."
Claudia stared at him."
You go, girl! Don't back down! (She didn't.) Fast pace, good setting, interesting occupation, excellent characters, and a killer who isn't easily guessed...I'm already looking for the next book in this series, Written in Blood!
Before her body was found floating in her Jacuzzi, publicist-to-the-stars Lindsey Alexander had few friends, but plenty of lovers. To her ex-friend forensic handwriting expert Claudia Rose--she was a ruthless, back-stabbing manipulator. But even Claudia is shocked by Lindsey's startling final note: "It was fun while it lasted." It would be easier on the police--and Claudia--to write it off as suicide. But Claudia's instincts push her to investigate further, and she quickly finds herself entangled in a far darker scenario than she bargained for. Racing to identify a killer, Claudia soon has a price on her head--and unless she can read the handwriting on the wall, she will become the next victim.