Written by Cathy Ace — Canadian crime fiction writers are having their well-deserved moment in the sun just before the long winter sets in. Louise Penny, Peter Robinson and Linwood Barclay are merely the best known of a very diverse and entertaining group of crime writers. Not all of the stories are set in Canada, of course, and Welsh-born Cathy Ace, now firmly settled in Canada, takes care to vary her locations. Her Cait Morgan books all have titles beginning with ‘The Corpse with the…’ and you can complete the title by inserting the name of a precious metal or gemstone. They feature exotic locations where we might all want to spend our holidays: the South of France, wine-growing region of British Columbia, Mexico and now Las Vegas.
Cait Morgan, Ace’s quick-witted food expert and criminologist, is celebrating her partner Bud’s birthday at a VIP members’ club in Las Vegas. An eccentric cast of characters are enjoying the elaborate Russian-themed feast organised by their hostess, the larger than life casino owner Miss Shirley. A power cut intervenes, their hostess is killed in the dark, and there is a problem with the security system’s automatic locks. So Cait, Bud and the other 10 guests are trapped in the exclusive dining room with a corpse for 12 hours. The heat and smell of rotting frays tempers, and old hostilities spring to the fore as the body count starts to mount. Cait and Bud have to work fast to find the killer and prevent any more deaths.
The story itself is slightly implausible, but still highly entertaining. In this case, Cait’s photographic memory cannot help, as she was out of the room when the power cut happened, but she aims for a reconstruction of events nevertheless. Her ‘humming’ recollection and dream-association abilities, as seen briefly in previous books in the series, may be an explanation of how Poirot’s little grey cells work. However, they drag on a little too long in this one. The author’s good use of witty dialogue and idiosyncratic characters mean that her secondary players save themselves from being mere cardboard cutouts. They are just the right combination of shady and quirky, with intriguing back stories, although none of them is quite as fun and well-rounded as Cait herself.
Cathy Ace can be commended for sticking to a tried and tested formula of cosy crime in an exotic location, reminiscent of the Golden Age of crime fiction. The Corpse with the Platinum Hair offers a sympathetic amateur detective, a locked-room mystery, a small cast of colourful suspects, loving descriptions of food and drink, and a few red herrings thrown our way. Yet Ace reinvigorates this formula with a nod to a fresh literary or filmic artifice in each novel in the series. The first was a crime caper in the To Catch a Thief tradition, the second a family saga, the third a spy thriller, and this fourth one is most certainly a nod to noir and the Rat Pack. We have reviewed the first two novels in this series here and here. I liked this fourth Cait Morgan outing somewhat less than its predecessors, but it is still a good, solid entry for the series, which has already found a devoted group of readers.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars