Seeking Miss Scarlet
by Natalie Stenzel
(Harl. Flipside, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0373-44212-2
***
Seeking Miss Scarlet garners its title from a takeoff of the board game “Clue.” The story is a lighthearted and easy to read tale that covers no new ground yet is an enjoyable romance.

Valerie Longstreet owns and operates the Longstreet Inn and Mystery Theatre. She is the owner and producer of the mystery weekends which are the specialty of the Inn. Valerie inherited the Inn from her grandmother, who raised her after her parents were killed in an auto accident. Her past success has been as a short-lived soap opera character that was killed off so they didn't have to fire her. She is assisted in the mystery endeavor by her eccentric aunt, Lillian, who serves as the writer. And oh, yes, the inn is haunted by three lovely ghosts from the family's past. One of the ghosts is a kleptomaniac who steals things that are blue.

When Valerie starts getting notes from a stalker, she is a little unnerved but essentially takes it in stride. Her neighbor, Jack Harrison, an ex-cop turned PI, doesn’t follow her lead. When he gets a note saying she is going to die, he rushes to the Inn. He finds her lying on the floor with what appears to be blood on her collarbone. Oops…he just walked into a performance. Valerie convinces him to work with her on the mystery of the stalker by staying at the Inn and being part of her weekends. He will show up as the friendly Private Investigator, dropping hints and suggestions to the guests.

This works fine until their attraction starts to bubble and then Jack's past relationships start to interfere with his willingness to become involved with Valerie. The story moves into a rather dramatic climax, which isn't the ending. The climax generates the big misunderstanding, which then brings on the more routine romance ending.

Valerie is alternately smart, impractical, sultry and vampy. She uses the last two as defensive mechanisms when Jack gets too close. She is full of fun and loves what she does. But due to a failed romance with her leading man from the soap, she is unsure of her appeal. Simone, the actress she hired for the Inn, adds to her discomfort by being so assured and sexy all the time. Yet Valerie likes Jack and is determined to get behind the barriers he seems to have erected.

Jack does have barriers, primarily because of a situation from his work as a cop. He is sexy, concerned, caring and generally a nice guy. Yet it is clear he has some vulnerability he is trying to hide. He keeps pushing Valerie away, only to be drawn back to her over and over again.

This tale offers nothing new. Much of the story seems like parts of previously read stories. Yet, the writing is clear and the pace is generally brisk. The repartee between the two keeps the story moving and the reader reading. The ultimate identity of the stalker and the mystery was average, with no surprises and a tinge of disbelief.

Seeking Miss Scarlet offers light entertainment and romance and delivers on that promise.

--Shirley Lyons


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