In Playing with Poison by Cindy Blackburn, Jessica Hewitt answers her door to find her neighbor’s fiance, Stanley Sweetzer, stumble in, mumble the name of Candy, his fiancee, and die on Jessie’s sofa. Detective Rye comes to investigate, but Jessie feels that she is treated as a suspect in what is soon discovered to be murder with the drug phenobarbital. Then the tabloid television “journalist,” Jimmy Beak, learns that Jessie, who writes bodice-ripper historical romances under the name of Adele Nightingale, starts following her around, accusing her on video of having committed the murder. Jessie’s publicist, Louise, is delighted at this occurrence, as it brings Jessie’s sales up. So Jessie is horrified to see a nationally-syndicated gossip star talk about her as “the chief suspect” and that her books are “borderline porn.” Then the airheaded Candy, 20 years Jessie’s junior, gets arrested, along with her ex-boyfriend whom the police find her with. Certain that Candy isn’t capable of having committed this murder, Jessie works to find the true killer.
This book has an interesting basic premise, but I confess not to have been drawn into the book as much as I would have liked. The plot had its strong points at times, but until the denouement, I felt that the book was a little too straightforward. And then the conclusion threw in details the rest of us had no way of knowing. Granted, Jessie did come to the conclusion without having this significant information, but even her conclusion used less significant details that we had no access to knowing.
Only a couple of the characters in Playing with Poison have vivid characters. Jessica comes across as a likeable person, though I had to keep reminding myself that she is about 55 and not 35, especially given the way she is a pool shark who cannot lose at the game, in addition to her methods of questioning suspects. The other character who comes across as real is Detective Rye, who works hard to solve the case but also shows subtle signs of interest in Jessie, coming to visit her perhaps a little more than necessary.
Caroline Miller performs the audio version of this book. She adds flavor to the book and does good voices for each of the characters. She uses clear expressions as she reads the book, helping to make it more appealling.
Playing with Poison has some interesting elements, especially with a strong beginning. It really catches the attention to start the book with a dying man come staggering into Jessica’s house. However, I did struggle to connect personally to the book. Thus, I give the book three stars.
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