Dolly Departed
by Deb Baker

Berkley Prime Crime, 2008. ISBN 978-0-425-22051-1.
Reviewed by Sharon Wildwind
Posted on 03/31/2008

Fiction: Mystery

If I had a big house, I'd collect miniatures. My fantasy is to have a huge electric train layout running through my entire house. In every town or village where the train stopped, every building, every room, would be absolutely to scale, down to centerpieces on the tables and soap in the bathroom soap dishes.

Most of my paychecks would end up in shops like Mini Maize, the Scottsdale, Arizona shop devoted to dollhouses and miniature room boxes. But buying something from Mini Maze could be a problem. The owner, Charlie Maize, has been murdered, and doll expert Gretchen Birch is off on her third adventure in the world of dolls and doll collecting.

Charlie might have decorated glorious dollhouses, but she was much better at picking wall paper than surrounding herself with good people. One of her so-called friends was skimming money from the till, while her best friend (who custom-makes tiny dolls for the dollhouses), knows about a special order suggesting that Charlie herself was up to no good. Charlie's son is a druggie, living on the street, and one of her contract workers was brewing explosives in his basement: Charlie may have died before he finished the bomb meant for her. The answer to who did what to whom lies in a set of room boxes, found in ruins under Charlie's body. Only an experienced doll restorer like Gretchen has the skill to reconstruct the tiny pieces and solve a big crime.

I love the quotes that start many of the chapters. They are from the fictitious book, "The World of Dolls," by Caroline Birch, Gretchen's mother, herself a premiere expert on all things doll-ish. They set the perfect tone for the chapter to come.

I could do with fewer purse dogs: tiny dogs trained to ride, hide, and do their doggy-business inside purses. But this is strictly a personal opinion from a non-dog person. Other readers may find them as cute and charming as the author intended, and they do continue the theme of miniatures everywhere you look.

This a solid traditional mystery, with a group of close-knit amateur sleuths; a set of mysterious room boxes, complete with tiny murder weapons, and enough plausible suspects so that I was sure, absolutely sure, I knew who-done-it, only to be proven wrong at the end.

The romance between Gretchen and detective Matt Albright is nicely handled, and the book's ending marks a turning point in their relationship.

I look forward to more books in this series.

Deb Baker was born and raised in Michigan. She once raced Alaskan Huskies on a sprint race circuit in Michigan and Wisconsin. She writes short stories and has two mystery series, the Gertie Johnson series, set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and, for a warmer treat, the Gretchen Birch series, set in Scottsdale, Arizona. Find out more about Deb and her books on her website.

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