Title: The Makeover Murders
Author: Jennifer Rowe
Publisher: Bantam Books (1993)
In yet another take on the country house mystery ABC TV researcher and all around curmudgeon Verity Birdwood is sent to an up market beauty spa for a fortnight and must somehow fit in with the odd assortment of women who are paying a fortune for the ultimate makeover. As the spa, in Sydney’s hinterland, is inundated by flooding rains relationships between guests and staff at the spa reach breaking point and murder becomes a viable option for someone.
I think I read all the Verity Birdwood books when they were first published but I had forgotten until this year, when I started re-reading them, just how good the plots are. About the only thing you can rely on is that they won’t work out as you predict because Rowe is very good at red herrings. The fact that this one is set in an area I lived in for several years made it that much more enjoyable as I too have survived several Hawkesbury River floods and, although my captivity was nver as action-packed as in this house, I could well believe the sense of isolation and growing desperation that mother nature can generate.
And I love Verity Birdwood (or Birdy as she likes to be called). She’s smart and cranky and generally believable because she doesn’t always get it right first time. But there are always loads of other great characters in Rowe’s books too and this is no exception. The employees and paying guests of Deepende Spa are a curious mix of people that you want to read about to find out what makes them all tick and which one of them has resorted to murder to solve their problems. As is often the case with cosy mysteries Birdy has a close relationship with a police detective and in this book that relationship is a bit strained as Dan Toby struggles to deal with the made-over Birdy. It adds a nice complexity to the story.
All in all this was a satisfying read and a great example of how a familar structure such as the country house mystery can still be given new and interesting life by a good author.
My rating 4/5