“Although, of course, not rum. I never touch that vile stuff. But a highball, yes, a highball would be refreshing—”
One character’s seemingly innocent comment becomes surprisingly significant and launches a murder investigation that complicates the retrieval of an errant diary.
Short on funds, Lola Woodby is “an unwilling teetotaler” and the rent is coming due. Her newly hatched Discreet Retrieval Agency needs a case to bring in money. Enter New York grande dame Sophronia Whiddle. Sophronia wants to hire Lola and partner-in-sleuthing Berta Lundgren to retrieve her daughter Grace’s diary. Sophronia fears secrets in her daughter’s diary will derail the young woman’s impending marriage to Gilbert Morris, scion of a high society senator. Unfortunately, to get their hands on the diary, Lola and Berta will need to check into Willow Acres Health Farm, which also happens to be run by Lola’s brother-in-law, Dr. Chisholm Woodby.
Lola breezes out to the farm in her Duesenberg Model A with Berta and her Pomeranian dog, Cedric, in tow. Lola and Berta are settled in the facility’s East Ward where Grace and an assortment of characters (who have too many mutual connections to be coincidental) are in residence.
At their first “vigorology” class (think today’s calisthenics), Lola and Berta meet Grace Whiddle, Grace’s future mother-in-law Muffy Morris, Muffy’s brother Hermie Inchbald, home décor author Violet Wilbur, Canadian soda pop entrepreneur Raymond Hathorne, and Pete Schlump, a pitcher for the Yankees.
The next morning, Muffy is found dead, and Grace has flown the coop.
Lola and Berta sneak a peek at the deceased. It’s clear something’s afoot because why would Muffy be holding a bottle of rum, which she abhorred, when there was a bottle of gin handy?
In quick succession, Lola and Berta are fired by Sophronia for failing to retrieve the diary and hired by Senator Winfield Morris to find out who killed his wife and “keep the whole thing hush-hush.” He’s a bit paranoid that anarchists are responsible.
“We had one cracked murder case under our belts, but we’d bumbled around a great deal,” Lola narrates. She worries that it might just have been “beginner’s luck,” but “We’ll be systematic this time,” she tells Berta.
But bumbling misadventures are more fun!
Employing some clever and not-so-clever methods, Lola and Berta snoop for clues, badger a few suspects and witnesses, and attempt to evade two goons who’ve been set on their trail. They get a little timely help and join forces with investigator Ralph Oliver, who has reasons of his own for obtaining the diary. And all the while, Lola desperately tries to keep her sleuthing job hidden from her high society mother.
When all the suspects converge at the Coney Island Mermaid Queen Pageant, someone else is shot dead. Will Lola be able to solve the murders before everything falls apart?
Turns out there’s a lot of scheming going on here. Several characters have hidden agendas that may or may not directly relate to the murders, and Lola and Berta unravel it all.
Like a highball, or gin and tonic, Teetotaled is a breezy, refreshing read set in 1920s New York City and environs. Lola, though she may not have the figure of the era’s flappers, embodies their free spirit and liberal attitudes about a woman’s place in society.
This second book firmly establishes Lola and Berta as lady detectives and presents an interesting mystery that has a few unexpected turns. Mystery buffs might be able to pick out the killer sooner rather than later, but unraveling motives certainly keeps you reading and guessing. It’s also quite interesting to find out how important the diary actually is. What seems like a MacGuffin at first becomes far more integral to the plot.
Readers may find it more enjoyable to start with book one, Come Hell or Highball (2015), but it’s not necessary to have read it to enjoy book two. The Discreet Retrieval Agency series will appeal to fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher series and Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries.
For more about Teetotaled and Maia Chance, read Blog Tour II for a Q&A and excerpt.