Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ding Dong Dead

Ding Dong Dead is the fourth installment of the "Dolls to Die For" series by author Deb Baker. It's also the first one in the series that I've read. Like many readers, I don't necessarily like to start series from the beginning because I'm impatient, since most reviews cover the current title and it is inevitable that I've been hooked in by the particular storyline that is mentioned in the reviews. Of course, if the book is good, I'll delve backward into the earlier titles.

That will certainly be the case with Deb Baker, who has crafted a quickly-paced mystery that is both suspenseful and interesting. The premise is that a group of doll collectors in Phoenix--led by the protagonist, Gretchen Birch and her mother, Caroline--is gifted the use of a large mansion to use for a museum. To raise money for its opening and upkeep, they decide to produce a stage play called "Ding Dong Dead." Meanwhile, Gretchen's newish boyfriend, Matt--a Phoenix police detective--is called to a murder scene at the local cemetery. Gretchen and her mother become involved in the investigation of that murder and their sleuthing takes them deep into the troubled history of the long-deceased original owners of the mansion that has been granted to their club to establish the "World of Dolls Museum."

Don't be fooled by the doll theme--Baker does a great job of making dolls work for the suspenseful mystery puzzle that drives the action and thus the story, rather than the other way around. This is a serious mystery with a large cast and several complex plot points. The natural eeriness of dolls, their inherent personification that makes people pause, is reflected in the character of Matt. Yet do not think this is a Chucky-esque, "demonic dolls" sort of series. It's not.

The body count is 2, but there are many other potential victims with near-escapes, and you won't know who the killer is (or their motives) until almost the very end. There are also subplots on mental health and homelessness that Baker works into the narrative with a gentle nod but no preaching, and it was surprising and nice to find these in a contemporary mystery--and handled with great respect and expertise. I will be interested to see what happens to Gretchen and Matt in the next installment!