Friday, August 10, 2007

Champagne Kisses Cyanide Dreams

Champagne Kisses Cyanide Dreams by Ralph Graves
Published 2001

I'm working on a Second Life project to highlight mysteries set in coastal New England and that is how I happened upon Champagne Kisses Cyanide Dreams (which I will now abbreviate Champagne Kisses). This murder mystery was written by Ralph Graves, a former editor for Time and Life and a part-time resident (as of 2001 anyway) of Martha's Vineyard.

If pressed to categorize this book, I would put it just over the edge into Cozies. It takes place in a small, picturesque community and is narrated in the first person by an amateur crime enthusiast, Jason Arnold. Jason is such an enthusiast that he relishes being a suspect and tries to maintain that status as long as possible. He is now good friends with a retired New York City detective Dirk Schultz who was once the primary on a previous murder case in which Jason figured. Thanks to an inheritance from his grandmother, Jason doesn't have to work and dabbles in writing. Regarding his C-minus average in college he says

My father, whose memory is inferior to mine, used to rail against my failure to "put more effort into it." It was an attituude I could understand but not endorse.
He also lists his occupation as "living." This pretty much summarizes Jason, likable, well-off, and not ambitious.

The plot is simple. Mildred (Milly) Silk is a wealthy, famous, author "known for her acid tongue and general mean-spiritedness" (this from the fly leaf). She is also known for her parties. During the dinner party that starts the story, she reveals that her last book will be a tell-all expose' of Island celebrities and that everyone at the party - with the exception of Jason who isn't important enough - is in the book. The celebrities include an aging actress with two spectacular assets, an opera diva, a TV talk show host, Milly's publisher/editor, a California computer software billionaire, and other celebrity dinner party types. Milly is poisoned in full view of everyone. Over the course of the book, several suspects from the fatal party are dispatched in the same manner and Jason and Dirk investigate.

There is a fair amount of humor in Champagne Kisses, all the result of Jason's wonderfully snarky comments and observations about the celebrities and their invasion of Martha's Vineyard. Much of the blame appears to fall on The Clintons.

Graves also provides a nice sense of place in his descriptions of the Island, its geography, culture, and some history. A map allows the reader to see where events are occurring. I appreciated these details as they helped to keep a mental image of the setting as I read.

Champagne Kisses is a thoroughly enjoyable light read. The story moves along briskly, the red hearing isn't annoying, there is a nice twist in the plot, the murders are not particularly graphic, and the small amount of sexual content is out of sight and reasonably tasteful. Correction: in retrospect,there may be a few bits that could offend those of a conservative nature. Didn't bother me, though.