Teenage girls are hell in Neapolitan mystery novel

Naples: Paradise Can Be Deadly, by Diane Ketcham. Tidelow Press. 312 pages. Trade paper $14.95.

Ms. Ketcham’s New York journalist A. J. (Agatha Jasmine) Billings is staying real close to her boyfriend, Naples area congressman James “Whit” Whitman. The couple is making the all the right moves to enhance Republican Party chances in the upcoming elections. There are fundraisers galore, many focused on the re-election of Carson Wicklow, chairman of the governing county commission. “Jazz” is enjoying her hot relationship with Whit, though she’s a bit perturbed at having her identity reduced to the woman in his life. After all, she is – or has been – an independent somebody.  KetchamCoverHigh

As one might expect in a mystery story, there is trouble in Paradise. A young man has vanished without a trace, leaving his tennis playing girlfriend, an acquaintance of Jazz, getting nowhere with the local constabulary. They just don’t take her missing person complaint seriously. Jazz tries to help, but she too is stonewalled. What’s going on here?

Worse, Commissioner Wicklow’s gorgeous teenage daughter Cara, who has been incarcerated in a hard case private school for troublesome girls – for her own good – is found dead. At first her death looks like suicide, but a closer look suggests murder.

What’s a somewhat bored award-winning journalist to do? Check out the secretive school and the teenager’s friends, that’s what. Why not connect with her boss-editor at the New York paper and get assigned to do a feature on this weird school and the even weirder sorority whose initiation rites are extraordinarily perverse . . . and dangerous?

There is one person who is likely to give Jazz the best insights into Cara, and that is her twin sister Chasen, who has been somewhat reclusive since the murder. Yes, I said twin sister. Use your imagination.

The tenuous state of Jazz’s love life and domestic life is a cause of additional suspense throughout the novel. Her large diarrhea-prone Labrador Retriever is not at all welcome in the condo where she and Wit live, and confrontations with the condo overlords threaten.

And why is Wit spending so much time with Mara, the former stepmother to Wicklow’s twins? Is it just election campaign business – or something more? Jazz’s lover is not so much a loverboy now that she is plying her journalistic trade; he seems rather standoffish and preoccupied. What’s the problem?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 25, 2013  Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 26 Naples and Bonita Springs issues, click here  Florida Weekly – Ketcham 1 and here Florida Weekly – Ketcham 2.

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