Lust, Loathing, and a Little Lip Gloss (Sophie Katz, book 4), by Kyra Davis

Kyra Davis is half Jewish (Eastern European) and half African-American; she married early and repented at leisure, getting divorced within a relatively short period of time. Despite a career in the fashion industry, she found herself writing novels as a sort of therapy, given the events of her life. Unlike most people’s therapy journals, though, hers turned out to be worth publishing, and she signed with Red Dress Ink (now subsumed back into MIRA, rather like Luna). This is the fourth novel to feature her amateur detective and mystery novelist, Sophie Katz. Ms. Davis currently lives in Southern California, where she writes full-time.

Sophie Katz (also half Eastern-European Jewish and half African American) is at an open house one day when she runs into her ex-husband, a realtor. He tells her of a dream house, a three-bedroom Victorian being sold for well under market value, and she reluctantly agrees to meet him there. Turns out there’s a catch: When they get there, the owner is found dead of a heart attack. The owner’s son still seems likely to sell, provided that Sophie joins the Spectre Society. Also, the house may or may not be haunted. Add that to some odd characters in the Spectre Society itself, her ex-husband’s jealous new girlfriend, and Sophie’s mother, and Sophie finds herself in another uncomfortable situation . . .

No, I actually haven’t read the previous books in the series, but it didn’t really seem to matter. Ms. Davis gives just enough of the backstory to make things make sense, and enough hints of what happened in previous novels (apparently Sophie and her boyfriend Anatoly each thought the other was a murderer) to whet my appetite for reading the other novels. It’s often interesting to read a novel in a series that has a romance involved and a couple at the heart of it, and Sophie and Anatoly’s relationship progressed nicely during the course of the novel. There was, of course, a Misunderstanding, but it felt a good deal more authentic than the fake misunderstandings that could be solved by about thirty seconds of conversation that populate other romantic stories. It also didn’t make up the majority of the plot; it was merely a side dish, and therefore worked much better for me.

It’s obvious to some degree that Ms. Davis used elements of her own biography (heritage, early marriage, mystery-novel-writing career) to make Sophie, and while this tells me exactly what Sophie looks like (there’s an author picture in the back of the book, as well as on her website), it also makes me have to remind myself that it’s not terribly likely that Ms. Davis has been around that many corpses. However, obviously the author has much more experience being half Eastern-European-Jewish and half African-American than not, and she did mention the hazards of being a bit exotic-looking: being asked what one is, as if ‘human’ and ‘American’ (by accent) aren’t enough, and attracting stares when one is with a partner who is fair, blond, and blue-eyed. I wonder if she’s covered this topic in a bit more depth in the previous volumes.

I was actually kind of surprised by the depth in this book. Having read none of the other books in the series, nor anything else by the author (and very little by the imprint), I was expecting something . . . different. Perhaps a story that put Sophie through a little less, in terms of personal hell. Learning what she did, and I obviously won’t go into it, is a hard lesson, and it was difficult to see her go through it, but ultimately quite rewarding. I’m not even sure this book falls on the list for ‘a good beach read,’ being that that would be a little too dismissive of what this novel has going for it, which is excellent characters, an interesting murder, and emotional depth. It’s a good character study in addition to a great story, and I’d recommend it, with or without its predecessors, to fans of light-to-moderate mysteries with emotional depth; or, you know, Nora Roberts fans. 4/5 stars.

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