Book Review: Death Was in The Blood by Linda L. Richards
December! I’ve been busy the last few weeks, with things both crimmus-related and not. As such, I haven’t been able to get in as much reading as I’d like– which is kind of a shame as every December I like to read a bunch of books to pad out the number of books I read that year. I gave vague thought to some holiday-based stuff, but then I realized tracking down, watching, and reviewing 12 random Christmas specials in 12 days would be just too much given my schedule. So it looks like you’ll have to wait ’til next year to hear my thoughts on that one episode of Ghostbusters where they go back in time and capture all the ghosts menacing Ebeneezer Scrooge.
But I digress.
In a decidedly non-holiday piece of reading, how about some noir? Death Was In the Blood is the third in a series, following Death Was the Other Woman and Death Was In the Picture. Several years ago, I listened to the audiobook of Death Was the Other Woman while working a job that had me driving way too much for way too little money. Thankfully, I quit that gig before long, but that experience made me a solid fan of Richards’ Kitty Pangborn series. I eagerly tracked down Death Was in The Picture after that, but sort of lost track of the series … until recently, when I found out she wrote a third book under a different publisher. One trip to amazon later (I needed to add something to the order of Christmas presents to get free shipping, honest) and here we are!
Set in 1930’s Los Angeles, the books center around a young woman named Kitty Pangborn, who works as a secretary to Dex Theroux, P.I. Problem is, Dex is a raging alcoholic, so it falls onto Kitty to actually solve the cases they take on. It’s a wonderful subversion of the typical noir tropes, making for really fun reading. Kitty’s a fun character– clever, but often a little naïve and overwhelmed by the gritty crimes she tends to get caught up in.
All and all, Death Was In the Blood is a fun, fast paced mystery. Linda L. Richards writes some engaging characters, and you can tell she’s done her research in fleshing out prohibition-era L.A. Plus, the whole ‘the sidekick is the real protagonist’ gimmick is loads and loads of fun. Richards really leans into the gender-flipped detective tropes, down to a painfully handsome man hiring the PI, instead of the Obligatory Lady In a Red Dress. Fellow Fatale?
The thing is, Death Was In the Blood isn’t nearly as good as the first two books in the series. I don’t know if this is due to the change in publisher, or if my fond memories set the bar too high. It’s not bad– the book is a breezy and enjoyable read, but it feels lighter than the first two books in the series. This is mainly a matter of stakes– the first two books start off with murder and blackmail and all that other wonderfully gritty stuff. Death Was In the Blood, however, has Kitty and Dex hired on … because somebody’s threatening a young heiress for trying to get on the Olympic equestrian team. Which leads into deeper stuff, sure, but it doesn’t delve nearly as deep into secrets and crime and stuff as the first two books do. I mean, hell, instead of a murder or whatever, the big mystery that pops up about halfway through the book centers around the kidnapping … of a horse. Honestly, the whole plot feels a lot more Nancy Drew than Sam Spade.
So yeah. I guess it’s the sign of a good series when you can say “the earlier ones were better!” or … something. I dunno. I still enjoyed Death Was In the Blood for what it was, and I really hope Linda L. Richards writes more Kitty Pangborn mysteries in the future. I just hope they have more compelling crimes to solve next time.