A crime has been committed in nurse-turned-bumbling-sleuth Darcy Cavanaugh’s debut novelette. It’s a crime of impersonation, and it has nothing to do with the strangely attired retirees aboard the cruise ship that serves as the story’s setting. I suppose I should have been tipped off by the cover illustration, which is more Sex and the City than Dashiell Hammett — but still, it says “mystery” right next to the title, Dressed to Keel. And Darcy’s sidekick, the big-hearted lesbian nurse Marie, would be right at home on a PBS gumshoe series. But forewarned is forearmed: If you board this ship looking for Sam Spade, you’re going to be more disappointed than the blue-hairs losing their retirement nest egg at the on-board casinos.
There is a jewel thief loose on this post-menopausal Love Boat, snatching pearl necklaces and Judith Leiber handbags while their owners are recovering from a rash of mini-strokes. Darcy’s prime suspect? The Harlequin-Romance-handsome Luke Skyler, dance-host extraordinaire. While the red-headed and amply bosomed Ms. Cavanaugh at first steels herself against Luke’s golden stubble and dark-blue eyes — she is recovering from an affair with a dishonest fireman — it’s not long ‘til we sail into passages such as this: “His fingers tightened and pressed me even closer until our hips met fully and perfectly. It seemed like we were barely moving across the dance floor and that everything around us was a blur.” And this: “He covered my mouth with his own for a long moment. Long enough for me to realize that I’d never been kissed this well before and to wonder what other surprises were in store.”
But not before some requisite biting, tussling, and other bits of fun considered foreplay in the romance genre.
I’m not dissing Darcy, though, or her creator, nurse-turned-Hill-Country-romance-author and cruise-expert Candy Calvert. Dressed to Keel is light, serviceable, and fun. The only way you won’t see the bad guys coming from a mile away is if you’re half-distracted by the kids at the pool. But that’s the perfect place to savor this little summer truffle.
- Elaine Wolff