Scarlett Parker, her cousin Viv, and their friends get involved in another mystery in At the Drop of a Hat by Jenn McKinlay. One day a friend of Harrison, the business manager of and partner in Mim’s Whims, the hat shop established by the cousins’ grandmother, comes into the shop. Viv, who waa trained by Mim, the girls’ grandmother, gasps as she sees Ariana pull out an old hat box that used to be the one used by the shop long before Mim died. Ariana pulls out a hat made by their grandmother years earlier, a hat worn by her late mother at her wedding and which Ariana wants to wear at her own upcoming wedding but which needs repair work. Not having heard back from Ariana to approve their estimate, Scarlett goes to Ariana’s office, where she works as assistant to Anthony Russo, attorney to the stars with a reputation for dirty tricks. Arriving, Scarlett hears screaming and rushes around the side of the building, where she finds Ariana bending over the body of a crushed Russo, who fell (was pushed?) off the building. It doesn’t take long before the police arrest Ariana, saying Russo was dead longer than if he just fell. Further, Russo was grasping a piece of Ariana’s blouse in his hand, making Ariana look earn more guilty. But Scarlett and Viv do not believe in the guilt of Ariana and determine to get to the truth.
In the past, Harrison has fought hard against Scarlett’s doing her own detecting, and Viv has supported him. But this time, Viv agrees with Scarlett, leaving Harrison alone as the sole individual fighting against their interfering. He extracts a promise that the two women will let him know each time they make plans to talk to anyone they suspect. But they break this promise almost immediately when they go to visit Mariana, the former girlfriend of Russo, each thinking the other alerted Harrison. At Mariska’s apartment, she serves them “tea,” which turns out to be what she turn calls special Russian potato tea, in otter words vodka. Mariska gets Viv drunk, though Scarlett avoids trying to keep up with the Russian woman in her drinking. By the time Scarlett gets Viv home to the hat shop where they live above the shop, Viv is flamboyant in her drunkenness and gives away their adventures to Harrison and Alistair, the friend serving as Ariana’s barrister.
The book delves into a deeper relationship between the cousins, but we also see how Scarlett is disturbed by the reticence she perceives in her cousin’s behavior towards herself. She is confused about Viv’s refusal to let her know anything about her love life, especially in the light of Alistair’s interest in Viv. But the cousins do connect more enjoyably as they do more to work together. I also enjoyed their continued relationship with their gay neighbors, the dentist Nick and photographer Andre, who join them in a disastrous attempt to detect.
This series takes place in London, though it is written by an American author. I found myself sometimes wondering whether all the British language in the book was genuinely how Brits speak or whether McKinlay is trying to cram as much so-called Brit-speak into the book to give it as much legitimacy as possible. I do wish we’d seen a bit more of the magic of the hat shop. The first book, Cloche and Dagger, introduced us to a magic wardrobe, but we haven’t gotten to see more about that or the raven sitting on it.
Karyn O’Bryant continues as narrator of the series, and I really like her performance and voice. She keeps the book moving and helps to create delight in the listening experience.
I enjoyed At the Drop of a Hat, but my biggest complaint is that the book ends with a major cliffhanger. I hate it when books do that, as I think it is trying to manipulate the reader and get the reader to buy the next book based upon the draw of the cliffhanger instead of upon the quality of writing of the whole book. Without that cliffhanger, I’d have awarded the book four stars, but I’m going to have to take off half a star for trying to manipulate us the readers.
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