Die for Love: Jacqueline Kirby, #3 -- Elizabeth Peters
As promised, it's going to be All Elizabeth Peters, All the Time this week!
If you've been meaning to get in on the action, NOW IS THE TIME. As I've received so many lovely contributions (Did I mention that I'm totally still taking them?), I'll be running some of the longer ones over the course of the week, and linking everything up together at the end.
So now we come to Jacqueline Kirby's third adventure, which OH MY GOD, is right up there with Isaac Asimov's Murder at the ABA and Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun. All three are set at conventions for very specific groups—Asimov's at the American Booksellers' Association, McCrumb's at a science fiction convention, and Die for Love is set at a convention for the (fictional) Historical Romance Writers of the World group—and all three hilariously skewer the industry and culture while still managing to be somewhat affectionate as well.
This one came out in 1984, ten years after The Murders of Richard III, but in true Elizabeth Peters form (see the Vicky Bliss series for some especially amazing temporal machinations), it's set in the present day even though it's only been a few years for Jacqueline Kirby. Anyway, she's currently the assistant head librarian at Coldwater College, Nebraska, and she's sick of the rain and the lack of culture and she just needs to GET AWAY, so she decides to swan off to the first literature-related conference that she can find (so she can deduct it on her taxes), which just so happens to be for the Historical Romance Writers of the World.
Once there, she quickly realizes that A) she's going to need a waaaaay more ostentatious wardrobe, as tailored wool suits are NOT de rigueur in this world, B) she's TOTALLY going to start writing romance novels, as it pays WAAAAAAY better than librarianing (assuming that one is on the best-sellers list, which OBVIOUSLY she will be, because SERIOUSLY, HOW HARD CAN IT BE), and C) there is some BAD MOJO going on within the HRWW, what with the blackmail and the graft and the deception and yes, the MURDER.
The murdered: a gossip columnist who was planning on busting the romance world WIDE OPEN.
A very few of the suspects: an obsessed teenaged fan with violent tendencies, an author who is trying to conceal her true identity, an actor who is tired of pretending to be an author, a literary agent with a fake Southern accent and a talent for roping authors into signing terrible contracts, the leader of an anti-romance-novel protest movement, and the Queen of Love herself, the devastatingly beautiful Valerie Valentine.
I can never decide which book in this series is my favorite: Die for Love or The Murders of Richard III. Basically, it always comes down to whichever one I've read the most recently. So, obviously, at the moment, it's Die for Love.
Because, HOLY COW, THE HILARITY.
• When Jacqueline decides to GO FOR IT with her clothes, she GOES FOR IT:
The hat [which has previously been described as being the size of a cartwheel and being covered in flowers and ribbons] now boasted a ruffle of lace five inches wide. It hung down over Jacqueline's eyebrows in front. Amid the flowers and bows on the crown perched a stuffed cockatoo, its molting wings spread. It had one red glass eye. The other was missing.
Understand, THAT'S JUST THE HAT. The outfit (which is lavender) also has a parasol and elbow-length gloves and then later, a huge 'STOP RAPE' button.
• Jacqueline herself is still the Jacqueline we know and love—she breaks into song at inappropriate times, her glasses slide down her nose in moments of heightened emotion, she has a penchant for slipping into Noir Speak when the mood suits her (but is just as likely to start spouting Shakespeare), she loves pretty much all food, but ESPECIALLY if it is expensive and someone else is paying—but unlike the first two books in the series, Die for Love follows her instead of whoever is acting as her Watson. While that change does a bit to lessen her mystique, it also makes her a little more human: her faults are suddenly bit easier to see, and it also becomes clear that at least some small fraction of her confidence is a facade.
• As for the meta-factor, this one is a DOUBLE WHAMMY. There are the expected references to mystery novels and crime stories (she pulls a Columbo towards the end that is OUTSTANDING and all of her knowledge about ciphers comes from Dorothy Sayers), but there are also a plethora of rants about the romance industry, and it's hard to imagine that Elizabeth Peters wasn't taking the opportunity to get a few jabs in. (Rants include: ghostwriting, rape culture, sketchy agents, crappy convention food, the second-class status of fans... the list goes on and on.)
• Speaking of the romance industry, some of the chapters begin with excerpts of the books she's reading—and later, the book she's writing—and they are LAUGH-OUT-LOUD, NOSEBLEED FUNNY. (Relatedly, I need to take a moment here to recommend My Angelica: read it.)
• Why we love Elizabeth Peters in a nutshell: "Jacqueline had never had any sympathy with heroines of thrillers who clung doggedly and feeblemindedly to the clue that (a) would have solved the case on page 50 if the police had had it, and (b) rendered said heroine vulnerable to kidnapping, assault, and mayhem."
• A whole TON could be written about Jacqueline's love life and what it says about her status as an independent, liberated woman (for what it's worth, I've definitely run across people who complain about her because they don't see her as "nice"), as well as romance as relates to the middle-aged. Due to the relationships she has with the love interest(s) and all of the conversation about romance in literature and conventions of the genre and how they relate to real life, this book is especially great for highlighting all of that. Yes, it's wonderfully zany and funny and entertaining, but there's actually some meaty stuff to think about as well.
Next up: the last one (*sob*) Naked Once More.
Book source: Personal copy.