Courting Claudia

A Study in Scandal
by Robin DeHart
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 006-078216-1
Robin DeHart has written a story that has an Amanda Quick feel to it: independent older woman (age 28), reclusive professional (in this case a Scotland Yard detective turned criminal researcher) and a hunt for antiquities in the 1890’s. Unfortunately, both characters have flaws that are difficult to overlook and the mystery that moves the story is not exactly spine tingling. While I enjoyed portions of the book that focused on their relationship, the majority fell flat.

The Ladies Amateur Sleuth Society was developed by four friends. The founder is Amelia Watersfield, a spinster who loves Sherlock Holmes mysteries and wants to write a book based on a female inspector like Holmes. A Study in Scandal is the first of the stories to be written about the society members.

Amelia is smart and loves a challenge. She lives life to the fullest, finding the positive in everyone. When a Nefertiti statue is stolen from her father’s study, Amelia is determined to restore it to her father. She hires a friend of the family, Inspector Colin Brindley, to find it with the hopes that he will allow her to assist him, just like Watson did to Holmes. Colin is the antithesis to Amelia. Where she laughs, he is somber. Where he finds it difficult to talk to people, she seems to put them at ease and gather amazing cooperation from them. Where he is studious and concentrated, she is chatty and processes her thoughts through discussion. But Amelia is interested in Colin’s research on fingertips and printing of those images. This forms a common bond.

At some point, Amelia decides to approach Colin about having an affair, even as she finds herself falling for him. Colin is convinced he must hold in passion of all kind since passionate love is so close to passionate violence. He has built his life on controlling his emotions and finds himself at a loss around Amelia. But this reasoning is never fully explained and it just never really plays well when one thinks that Colin is a normal, red-blooded male who is also passionate about his research. His reasoning seems flawed because it is only cursorily detailed, thus never really reaching the reader for empathy.

Amelia, on the other hand, is naïve to the point of idiocy. She wants to experience love, so she wants to have an affair. She is intelligent and analytical when it comes to fiction and her life, but she is constantly walking into danger without thinking things through and only recognizes her errors when it is too late. While these adventures play well for the drama in the story, they make her seem simple at times, too.

The major plot line is the statue and this just seems like a non-mystery. There are no real suspects or motives and even though Amelia’s father cares about the statue for sentimental purposes, there is no one else who cares. In fact, there is some uncertainty about whether it was actually stolen or simply broken and thrown away. It is such an understated mystery that it seems unremarkable throughout the tale and therefore is a flimsy plot to base an entire story on.

What I did enjoy was the actual interaction between Amelia and Colin. Colin is given to sarcasm and Amelia to unadulterated enjoyment of life. Their dichotomies are actually endearing, leaving a warm feeling with many of their interactions.

Here is a sample with Amelia talking to Colin and back:
“You really ought to laugh more often.”
“Yes well, you caught me off guard with that one. And I laugh enough.”
“No, not enough. It’s a nice pleasant sound. And laughter is infectious.”
“Similar to yawns”, he said.
She smiled. “Only better.”
“Well, just as a yawn only comes when one is sleepy, I only laugh when I’m amused.”
“Perhaps I will continue to be so amusing, so that you will laugh on a more regular basis.”
“You think you have that in you?”
“I shall dig around and see. I do enjoy a good challenge.”

Unfortunately, this is not the case for the majority of the book. The mystery seems to move the story and the lack of entertainment in that slows down the whole tale. A Study in Scandal shows promise but doesn’t quite deliver the whole package.

--Shirley Lyons

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