A former supermodel takes a fatal tumble, and only the unlikely duo Claire and Maggie can say who pushed her
Women like Cybella are not destined to survive their fifties. Her looks long gone, the ex-supermodel takes a leap down a stairwell—an apparent suicide that lands her on the front page one last time. Maggie Hill and her employer, the eccentrically brilliant detective Claire Conrad, are about to leave New York when a streetwalker named Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Murphy barges into their hotel room, clutching a tape that she claims proves the model was murdered—a tawdry bit of pornography starring Jackie and Cybella’s daughter. Conrad is unimpressed, but Jackie gets her attention on her way out of the hotel, when an unseen killer stabs her to death in the street. Discovering the truth behind the two murders will take Maggie and Claire on a trip to the ugliest corners of New York City, and show them that there is no back alley as dangerous as a high-fashion catwalk.
Although her protagonists are outwardly tough career women, Howe's (The Mother Shadow) heroines claim a distinctive view of femininity in this often arch, half-baked mystery. Maggie Hill, narrator and self-deprecating assistant to high-toned sleuth Claire Conrad, sees beauty as true power and lusts for Conrad's macho butler, Boulton. She's the perfect misogynist to help solve this whodunit, which makes a three-point turn on the suspicious suicide of a former model, a hooker's insistence that the death was murder and a pornographic videotape of the model's gorgeous daughter. Hill roots out suspects at Manhattan strip joints and a glossy fashion magazine, but she leaves the finer points of detective work to her boss, who rolls to crime scenes in a chauffeur-driven Bentley and never gets her gloved hands dirty. Neither of her investigators will inspire much reader sympathy; no more engaging is the plot, whose resolution hinges on evidence offered by an insane woman Hill encounters in a flophouse. Only readers amused by elitists slumming in the city's underbelly are likely to be entertained.