I love it when I get the opportunity to review books by authors whose books I have already enjoyed! This is a first for me, on two counts: this is my first time reviewing for Parent Bloggers Network; as well as my first time reviewing a novel after previously reviewing a picture book by the same author. I wrote a review about Jane O’Connor’s wonderful picture book Fancy Nancy, and now I’m writing a review for her first novel – Dangerous Admissions: Secrets of a Closet Sleuth. The simply fabulous Fancy Nancy has become a staple in our house – even my husband has read it often enough to remember it. My daughters were disappointed that Dangerous Admissions doesn’t take place in a posh place like Paris, and that the characters don’t dress fancy. However, the world of the exclusive prep school in New York City is decidedly fancy, as well as potentially lethal. I grew up in a small wealthy town, and have seen the world of “I’ll do anything to get into xxx college” – it’s a world that is prime material for a murder mystery!
Dangerous Admissions is a wonderful mystery with a touch of chick-lit. This mystery set in an elite NYC private school (The Chapel School, aka Chaps), where a few special words from teacher and adviser Mr. Tutwiler can get you into (or keep you out of) an Ivy or other elite college/university. When “Tut” is found dead by a student, questions start about his cause of death – murder? old age? suicide? stress? Rannie Bookman is the divorced mom of a “lifer” (a Senior who has been at Chaps since kindergarten), a freelance copy-editor, and a tour guide for the Chapel School (since she lost her full-time publishing gig). Rannie is motivated to add “closet sleuth” to her other jobs when her son Nate was the last person on Mr. Tut’s calendar before he was killed. (One un-intentional slip on the part of the publishers, though – the back of the book says that the mystery is at the school Rannie’s children attend. At the time of the novel, one child has graduated, so she only has one child at Chaps. Slightly ironic following the description of Rannie losing her job over a copy-editing mistake, though hers is funnier – leaving off the last L in The Secret of the Old Clock.)
I have written before about an author’s choice to use first person or third person, and how it can affect the reader’s experience of the novel. Dangerous Admissions is a great example of third person done right – you see the mystery primarily from Rannie’s point of view, but you also see Nate’s point of view and that of Olivia (the girl who found Mr. Tut). In addition, memos, phone calls, and text messages are also used to convey another character’s opinion. O’Connor shows us so much about each character through these different points of view, as we peer into their thoughts and lives. These little tidbits held in the minds of each character help us start gathering clues about the murder(s), and the other sub-plots within the story.
O’Connor throws out some wonderful red herrings in her mystery; there are so many people with motives, so many hidden secrets within the world of the wealthy in NYC, and so many people with the opportunity to have committed the murder. As each little clue is uncovered, we start building a theory, and then the theory changes when another clue is uncovered. The chick-lit part of the novel also keeps you hooked – the relationship between Rannie and a new beau, teenage lust and longing, as well as Rannie’s search for a permanent job. In Dangerous Admissions, O’Connor even makes Rannie’s freelance copy-editing horribly fascinating – a book about Dr. Mengele’s Nazi experiments.
The ending of Dangerous Admissions is a delicious surprise – a twist that you can see foreshadowed when you look back at the book after finishing it, but one I didn’t see coming. This is very different from some mystery authors who throw in a twist that isn’t linked to anything in the book, so you couldn’t see it coming. In addition, most novels with a chick-lit feel tie up every loose end when the book is finished. O’Connor didn’t do that in her novel, so the story felt even more real to me. The characters developed into people I could imagine meeting for a cup of coffee, and now it feels like I am ready to meet them for coffee again soon to find out what happens next. I hope that O’Connor is considering a sequel!
A definite thumbs up here for Dangerous Admissions. This novel succeeds with multi-faceted characters that are easy to like, a mystery that is surprising, intriguing sub-plots, plus some romance. Fancy Nancy would call it fabulous, darling! (However, most of the topics in Dangerous Admissions would not be appropriate for Nancy!). Win a copy by leaving a comment over at the Parent Bloggers Network, and see links to other reviews of Dangerous Admissions this week!