Back Covdark and deadly pooler Summary: Liz enjoys her summer pool job at the glamorous Ridley Hotel. Until the night, a dark and lonely night, a ghastly shadow surges up from the pool. A face — eyes wide, mouth gaping — stares at Liz. A hand clutches at her sneaker. Then it, whatever it is, is gone.

But danger isn’t. Strange things are happening at the hotel, and a shaken Liz wants to know why. But whoever is behind the trouble will stop at nothing — even murder — to get what he wants…

Summary from Memory: Tall Liz is working at a hotel pool where shady people and shenanigans abound. She is persistently (though sort of charmingly? in an annoying way?) pursued by a short guy who also works at the hotel. Her parents are away vacationing in wherever-it-is teen horror parents go, but Liz is amazingly chill about staying alone.

Cast of Characters: Our main character is tall, clumsy, sixteen-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rafferty, a redhead who daydreams about being an orchestra conductor even though she isn’t “a superb musician.” Liz has tried piano, guitar, drums, and the flute, but given up each because…her parents don’t like listening to her practice. Wow. That is some lousy parenting. Liz has a summer job, working five days a week from three until eleven at the pool in the Ridley Hotel’s health club.

Next we meet Lamar Boudry, the incredibly competent chief of security at the Ridley Hotel. Not gonna lie: I have an enormous crush on Lamar and everything I say about him will be influenced by that fact. He reads spy novels and takes himself very seriously.

Nineteen-year-old Tina Martinez also works in security at Ridley, but has plans to get her Master’s degree in psychology.

Frances Liverpool III, better known as Fran, is a short, skinny, pug-nosed guy who works in room service. He’s in Liz’s class at school (a fact she doesn’t remember when they first meet).

Liz’s Dad is in Dallas on company business, and her Mom has gone with him, so they’ve asked their neighbour Mrs. Zellendorf to keep an eye on the house (and on Liz).

Arthur Martin, director of the Ridley’s health club, likes to lift weights and look at himself in the mirror. He’s called Art Mart, and widely regarded as “just a pretty face” (although not by Liz, who sees him as “not my type”).

Deeley is out sick for the first several days of the book, so we don’t actually meet her until the end, but she works the morning shift doing the same job Liz does.

Seventy-year-old Sylvia Bandini and sixty-five-year-old Mrs. Opal Larabee are regulars at the health club. They’re amazing. #squadgoals Mrs. Bandini has a ten-year-old grandson, Paul Canelli, who tags along with her to the health club sometimes and is an utter little brat. She also has an older grandson, Eric, whom she describes as tall and very handsome.

Mr. Kamara is a wealthy retiree who lives at the hotel. Art Mart has warned Liz that Mr. Kamara would probably ask her to go away with him for a weekend, because he’s tried that with all the women at the hotel (yikes), and told her when she turns him down to “go easy” because “he’s a guest of the Ridley” (double yikes).

Mr. C. L. Jones comes to the club every day to chat with Mr. Kamara. Sometimes he rides an exercise bike, but not always. Yeah, that’s suspicious.

Floyd Parmlee works for room service and accepts wads of cash from Mr. Kamara. Shady.

Actual Recap: When we first meet Liz, she is plastered against the wall near the hotel pool. It’s dark and she’s closing down for the day, so she’s scared. I empathize. I always find it creepy to be alone in an empty place that usually has a lot of people in it (schools are the WORST).

The pool is divided into indoor and outdoor parts by a glass wall that comes down to the surface of the water. So you can enter the pool from the indoor side (where the change rooms and workout space and sauna are located), and swim to the outdoor side to lie in the sun.

We get to hear about her summer job, and we also get a flashback to the conversation where her parents told her a summer job would help her gain confidence while Liz ran herself down for having zero “best qualities” and being clumsy and tall. As evidence of the clumsiness: she got fired from her first summer job at a fast food chain for knocking over too many drinks and stumbling into tables. She’s also fallen into the pool once at this new, second-try job at the hotel’s health club. I feel sorry for her, but the Ridley is a definite step up, and she’s loving it so far (three days in).

We also get this:

“What do you want?” Mom asked.

“A tall boyfriend,” I said flippantly. I wasn’t going to tell them what I dreamed of being someday. It was an impossible dream. For that matter, I supposed that a tall boyfriend was too. I thought about some of the tall guys I knew at school. They were all dating girls who were under five feet two. “Might as well make him handsome, while you’re at it,” I added.

Mom sighed and began to say, “Be serious. You don’t understand what we’re trying to—”

But Dad held up a hand and said, “All right, sweetheart. If that’s what you want right now, keep your goal in mind and don’t settle for less.”

I feel like both her parents are under-estimating her here. Liz actually knows perfectly well what they meant; she’s just tossing out a non-serious answer to keep her private dreams private. But at least her Dad accepts her stated current goal, and urges her to take it seriously. This is important, because in fact she’s going to toss that goal aside for a boy who also dismisses her REAL goal with some pop-psychology. Ugh, book, why do you have to hurt me?

But we’ll get to that later.

Back to Liz, who stands in the dark until her eyes adjust and starts to get over her fear. It’s such a sensible confrontation of an unreasonable fear. I love her, her self-deprecation notwithstanding.

Then she hears a little splash, like someone has quietly slipped into the pool outside. She waits, and sees the shadow of someone swimming, and when the person comes to the surface their hands touch her feet and she screams. I’d scream, too.

She runs (well, stumbles) back into the office and calls security. It’s too late—the shadow-swimmer has fled—but I don’t care, because now Lamar Boudry shows up. I adore Lamar, although admittedly all he does in this scene is watch her on both pool cameras, assure her there’s no one there, and then send Tina down to check it out.

Tina’s dark hair was cut short and straight, in line with Boudry’s regulations for security personnel, but Tina filled out her uniform o white shirt, maroon jacket, and slacks so well that her hair was not the first thing people noticed about her. When Tina was my age she had worked at the hotel health club, but this summer she was nineteen and had been hired for a full-time position with security. “She nagged me into hiring her,” Boudry told everyone, but he let everyone know that Tina was good at her job.

According to Tina, however, her mind was set on higher things. She’d enrolled in a couple of summer college courses and was going to work and study her way eventually into a master’s degree in psychology. At least then she could analyze everyone legally. Legal or not, I’d never met anyone so full of advice. (p. 7)

Tina doesn’t find anything, so she suggests the whole incident was a manifestation of Liz’s unconscious fears. She also lets Liz know that guests of the hotel have been having their pockets picked, but not while they’re in the hotel.

Liz leaves, and startles one of the kitchen workers standing in the middle of a pile of trash bags near the garbage bin. He claims to be emptying his ash tray. Ahem.

Liz sits in her car with her eyes closed, trying to calm down, and then opens her eyes to see someone’s shoes and trousers. So she screams, and he jumps back.

It’s Fran, who is short enough that she’s looking down at him when she jumps to her feet.

“What are you doing here?” I screeched at him.

“Room service.”

“In the parking lot? You’re crazy!” (p. 15)

Heh. I actually enjoy Fran and Liz together when they’re snapping at each other like characters in a 1940s movie, but unfortunately he immediately tells her she’s pretty and then launches into a long-winded explanation of how stress has caused him to be short. Those are the things I enjoy less about Fran.

He does drive home behind her, though, to make sure she gets there safely.

The net morning Liz tells Art Mart, her manager, about the person in the pool. He goes outside to inspect the fence around the pool in the daytime. He finds nothing, but Liz finds a gap right in the corner, concealed by shrubbery, where the two walls don’t meet. It’s big enough that a person could have squeezed through. Art is unimpressed, though, dismissing it all as “probably just some kid” and saying he’ll call maintenance “later.”

There is a long and complicated explanation of a security thing Lamar does, where guests are photographed at the front desk (without their permission or awareness), and cards are made up with their photo and names. A copy of these cards are sent to the health club every day, along with a list of guests who’ve checked out so their cards can be tossed out. It seems like a hell of a lot of trouble to go through just to keep track of who’s using the pool. Couldn’t you just make them produce their key and sign in?

But anyway, it’s also OBVIOUSLY the reason guests from the hotel are having their pockets picked in the city: a hotel employee is using the cards to identify them. Why you’d want to do that instead of pickpocketing random people is beyond me.

At this point we also meet Mrs. Bandini, Mrs. Larabee, and Mr. Kamara, but only in the sense that Liz notices they’re at the pool and runs through what she knows about them: Mrs. Bandini is seventy, stylish, and nice; her friend Mrs. Larabee is younger, fatter, and they bicker with each other; Mr. Kamara hits on all the female employees.

Mrs. Bandini beckons Liz over, wishes she had a grand-daughter like her, and introduces her youngest grandson, ten-year-old Paul. She then pointedly says she also wants Liz to meet her other grandson, Eric, who is very handsome, very tall, and she’s already told him all about Liz (whom she always addresses by her full name, Mary Elizabeth). That’s sort of sweet, but would have mortified me when I was Liz’s age.

Floyd, one of the room service guys, brings Liz a large foil-wrapped box of chocolates from Mr. Kamara. Ugh. She’s just seen Mr. Kamara shove a huge wad of cash into Floyd’s hand, so apparently he tips well.

Fran shows up for more banter, tries to invite himself to Liz’s house, gets shot down (she reminds herself of her goals: tall and handsome), and mentions that Mr. Kamara is a tightwad who almost never tips. Liz calls the gift shop and finds out Mr. Kamara charged the chocolates to his room, so the cash wasn’t to pay Floyd for buying them, so it’s all VERY MYSTERIOUS.

Fran shows up again when Liz is closing up. Lamar goes through their bags as they leave, because a lot of stuff (including Waterford vases) is being stolen from the hotel.

While Fran is asking her out yet again, Liz remembers the gap in the wall, and they go back and tell Lamar about it. They investigate, and Lamar is super-serious and curls his lip. I know he’s meant to be that type of  “mall cop who takes himself too seriously” character but I love him.

Also, they find wet footprints leading from the pool to a ficus tree, but then the trail ends abruptly. I have to be honest, the plot is the least interesting part of this book. It works well enough, and on first read-through it felt like “enough,” but recapping it makes me realize that I mostly tolerated the mystery bits to see more of the characters and setting.

Liz’s parents are less-absent than the average teen horror parents, because she regularly gets calls from her mother, checking in to see that everything’s okay. Meanwhile increasingly shady things keep happening at the hotel. My favourite is that four guys in overall show up and remove two ten-foot-long couches with “handcarved mahogany framing coral-and-silver brocade” for cleaning. This is SO OBVIOUSLY couch theft that I am disappointed in Lamar for not realizing it.

Also the overly-complicated card system is glitching, because some guy’s card isn’t there even though he’s at the pool.

Pauly Canelli continues to be a pest at the pool, and Mrs. Bandini doesn’t take it seriously. I absolutely HATE people who let small children run amok at pools or restaurants or any other place where people did not sign up to be jumped on by your kids. Ugh.

Creepy men in suits show up looking for Mr. Jones. Liz doesn’t tell them anything, but she’s unbelievably oblivious to how suspicious that is. She does tell Tina about it, but Tina is more interested in flirting with some guy at the pool (who, in passing, complains that his wallet was lifted while he was in the city; he’s also the guy whose card was missing from Liz’s files. WHY is it taking her so long to put this together?)

Liz has to go to the manager’s office because they’ve realized the couches were stolen and she’s a witness. For comic relief she is utterly unable to describe the men, cluelessly going on about how one was an “eight” and one was “yuck,” and I am grinding my teeth right now.

I wish Fran had been with me. He probably would have remembered. I had to think hard. “Okay. Two of the men were the kind who show up in a group picture at a company picnic and somebody says, ‘Who are those guys?’ only nobody remembers that they were even there at all. That’s what they looked like.”

Mr. Parmegan gave a sigh. “Height? Weight?”

“The same.” (p. 59)

I am tempted to call this casual sexism on the part of the author, especially given the “Fran would remember!” thing, but later on Mrs. Bandini and Mrs. Larabee totally redeem this book. So I guess…the main character is just an idiot?

Art Mart shows up to admire himself in mirrors, and have some sort of short spat with Mr. Kamara. Liz is too far away to hear what they say, and only wonders why Art isn’t following his own instructions to be pleasant to hotel guests. Sigh.

The guy’s card is back in the file. I am so over the card thing. YES, I GET IT, THEIR HOTEL CARDS ARE HELPING PICKPOCKETS ID RICH TARGETS. Liz doesn’t get it, though, so this will keep happening throughout the book to various hotel guests. I’m just going to stop mentioning it.

Pauly Canelli jumps into the pool again landing on Mr. Kamara and knocking him briefly unconscious. Liz rescues Mr. Kamara, and when she asks him if there’s anything else she can do to help he looks like he’s just thought of something:

For just an instant, before he turned away, I had glimpsed an almost evil expression of triumph on his ace. (p. 67)

Mrs. Bandini redeems herself in my eyes by apologizing repeatedly to Liz, and agreeing completely that Pauly shouldn’t be allowed in the pool for the rest of the day.

Liz meets up with Fran to discuss events, and I am reluctantly charmed:

His hair was neatly combed, and his smile was as bright as the bowl of daisies he thrust toward me.

“Thank you!” I said. “They’re beautiful!”

“And practically fresh too,” Fran said. “The people in 912 only had them two days before they checked out.” (p. 73)

Ha.

Fran is still pushy, but I can’t help liking him. Ugh. I’m a sucker for banter. Also, Liz isn’t quite as unaware as I thought she was.

“What kind of crazy criminal would steal cards from the photo-ID file and then bring them back?”

“Kurt Quentin Fraiser had his wallet stolen.”

Fran stood up, leaned toward me so that our noses were almost touching, and said, “Who is Quirt Kenton Fraiser, and what has his wallet got to do with anything?”

I leaned back and sighed. “I wish I knew.”

His voice became soothing. “You’ve been working very hard today, haven’t you?”

“Don’t patronize me, Fran.”

“Of course not,” he said. “Let’s go somewhere and get ice cream and talk about Quirk Frentin Kaiser’s wallet.” (p. 75)

The surest way to get me to like a couple is to have them talk like the spunky girl reporter and her rival from another newspaper in an Old Dark House movie. The combination of crime solving and snappy ridiculous chatter does it for me every time. (This is also why I love Trixie Belden, for the record.)

Anyway, Liz calls Tina and it’s obvious from their conversation that she’s figured out the cards and pickpocketing are connected, so she and Fran go for ice cream. She tells Fran about her goal to conduct an orchestra, and Fran kisses her.

I liked his kiss. I wanted to snuggle right into it. Obviously, skiing was not the only thing that Fran was good at. But a message of reason kept poking me. This wouldn’t work. I couldn’t date a guy who was four inches shorter than me! And what about my plan to hold out for what I wanted—for the best? If I let this go on, Fran would be hurt. (pp. 77-78)

To his credit, after she rejects him he still offers to follow her home to make sure she gets there safely. So he’s a decent, self-controlled guy even when he’s hurt.

The next day Liz goes to the police station to look at mugshots, and instead of finding the sofa thieves she recognizes C. L. Jones (the guy who shows up to talk to Mr. Kamara once a day). Detective Jarvis tells her that they found a badly-burned car with a body in it early that morning, and have tentatively identified the corpse as “the man you call Mr. C. L. Jones.” That’s not his real name, obviously, and he has a record.

Sigh. Time for another humorous interlude as Liz tries and really badly fails to describe the men who showed up at the pool looking for Mr. Jones. She does at least manage to recognize one of them in a photo, though. Detective Jarvis explains who the guy is in this weirdly stilted sentence:

“We suspect this perpetrator may have a tie-in with a branch of the syndicate in Miami.” (p. 86)

Back at work, she has a conversation with Art:

“Somebody ought to tell Mr. Kamara about it. I think he and Mr. Jones were friends.”

“Where’d you get that idea?” Art asked.

“Well, they were always talking together. Mr. Kamara isn’t very friendly with anyone else.”

“Mr. Kamara hasn’t any friends,” Art said. (p. 87)

On my first read-through I completely missed how sinister that sounded.

Mr. Kamara is upset: Mrs. Bandini and Mrs. Larabee witness his conversation with Art and report it all to Liz, and also suggest they should talk to the police, since they can give detailed descriptions of the men who asked about Mr. Jones that day (right down to what they were wearing).

On her way to call Detective Jarvis Liz is intercepted by Mr. Kamara, who thanks her for saving his life and gives her a locket. She doesn’t want to accept it but he insists, and the ladies talk her into it. Lol. I love them.

“Let us see!” Mrs. Bandini held a hand out, so I put the box in it.

“A very nice gift,” she said. “I’ve seen these in the hotel gift shop and while, under the circumstances,  it would be rude to tell you the price before taxes, you can take my word for it that it didn’t cost too much and not too little, so I consider this to be a perfectly respectable gift.” (p. 93)

In a conversation with Fran, Liz suddenly realizes that the unconnected crimes remind her of an orchestra: someone is “conducting” them, even though they seem unrelated. She wants to tell Lamar, but Fran points out that Lamar might very well be their conductor.

Also, she agrees to Fran’s offer to take her to see the Houston Symphony Orchestra, telling herself that it isn’t a “real date.” What the hell does she think a real date looks like, then??

The book dances all over the place trying not to call some characters Asian. I mean, they’re fairly obviously meant to be Asian, probably Japanese, but this is never staed and I don’t know why.

But before I could work on it, two families of petite people came into the office. I recognized the mothers and fathers from their cards. There were half-a-dozen assorted children with the adults. …No one in the group seemed to understand English, but they understood smiles.

….

Mrs. Bandini’s eyes were so wide she looked like a little gray-haired owl. “You have got to do something quick!” she said. “The Jacuzzi is filled with naked people!” (pp. 99-100)

Liz is unable to make the people understand that they have to wear bathing suits in the Jacuzzi, but then Lamar (who saw this unfold on camera) shows up, speaks to them in their own language, which again goes unnamed for some reason, and the problem is solved.

I turned to Lamar. “I’m impressed! You were able to talk to them!”

Lamar’s chin tilted modestly. “All I can say in their language is, ‘In this country we have laws against public nudity. You must wear bathing suits in the pool and Jacuzzi.'”

“That’s all you can say?”

“This happens every once in a while, so it seemed a good thing to learn.”

“But you seemed to understand what that woman said to you.”

“Yeah. Someone always says the same thing. I memorized it and got it translated. She said, ‘In your country you have some strange laws.'” ) (p. 101)

I love Lamar’s practicality (even though I refuse to believe someone always says that exact same sentence, as opposed to ever saying “Sorry, we didn’t realize” or anything). But it’s really, really odd that the book refuses to describe the people (other than “short”) or the sound of the language, or identify either. Was this meant to be some version of “colourblindness”?

Anyway. Getting back to the actual plot, Liz think she catches a glimpse of a man in a suit who might be one of the guys who’d been looking for Mr. Jones. She tells Lamar, who takes it seriously. Then once the pool closes for the night and she’s alone, cleaning up, someone turns of the lights on her. Lamar and Tina are busy when she calls, and the security person who answers the phone just tells her to call back if she has a real problem. Nice.

She bravely turns on every light in the place, and that’s when she discovers Mr. Kamara’s body in the pool.

An actual dead body (of someone she knew, no less) makes everything feel a lot more serious, and I love that the book treats this as a major, upsetting thing, not just a plot point. Liz gets in the pool and pulls Mr. Kamara out, in case he isn’t dead, but he’s cool to the touch.

Then Lamar bursts in, and he won’t let her sit down near the body in order to “preserve the scene.” He intelligently gets her to tell him everything she remembers right away, and calls the police, but also makes her get herself a towel and then change into dry clothes. When Tina shows up he kind of hints that, even though it’s the end of her shift, she should maybe stay with Liz. I love him, wholly and unabashedly: he’s professional and authoritative and kind in a completely non-demonstrative way.

The police show up, and confirm it was murder; he didn’t just drown. Tina gets sick at this news, and then tries to rally with her usual psychobabble, but it doesn’t work:

For a moment I thought she was going to cry. “An efficient security guard should be in total control at all times.”

“Only Lamar,” I said. “He’s one of a kind.” I took her shoulders and smiled at her. “Hey, you’re a nice, normal person, and you reacted the way a nice, normal person would. Remember what Detective Jarvis said? That if he didn’t feel something he’d quit?”

“I guess,” Tina said. She pushed a strand of hair back from her face and stared at me in the mirror. “I’m not going to be a security guard forever. I’m going to work hard and get my degree. And I’m not going to be just any old average psychologist either. I’m going to write books to help people and become rich and famous. You’ll see me on TV.”

“I’ll watch for you.”

She attempted to smile, and the corners of her mouth quivered. “When I start my practice, how would you like to be my assistant?” (pp. 116-117)

I love everyone in this bar. Well, everyone in this scene, anyway. I love that Tina is trying to talk herself back into feeling better by focusing on her plans for adulthood, but I love even more that she still feels that childish urge to somehow cling to the present and bring Liz along with her into that life.

I a-little-less like that Liz immediately says she’s too clumsy to be Tina’s assistant, but Tina springs neatly back into advice-giving mode and tells her she needs more self-esteem. I mean, she’s not wrong.

At home Liz cries and then remembers the locket. She doesn’t actually LOOK at it or anything, she just remembers that Mr. Kamara gave it to her.

The next morning she talks on the phone with her mother without mentioning (or remembering) the murder. What? How?? Then she puts a green face mask on, sets her hair in rollers, throws on old clothes, and just like in a 1970s sitcom Fran shows up. Ugh. He’s brought powdered doughnuts, though.

Partway through the doughnuts Liz bursts into tears and Fran puts his arms around her and assumes she’s crying because she missed him. What in the hell. Anyway, Liz tells him what happened, and then they go spend the day at the zoo until their shifts start.

At the hotel, Deeley is back at work, and she informs Liz that there’ve been two break-ins at the hotel: when the police went to Mr. Kamara’s room they discovered it had been ransacked, and someone did the same thing to the health club office.

…Liz, come on. Put this together. What could they have been looking for?

Anyway. Later, while Liz is telling Mrs. Larabee and Mrs. Bandini about what happened the night before, a blonde woman shows up claiming to be Mr. Kamara’s sister. She wants to take the contents of his locker. Liz says she’ll have to get permission, but the woman really doesn’t seem to want her to call security to get permission. Then Mrs. Bandini accidentally-on-purpose knocks the woman’s purse to the ground, spilling everything, and bends down to pick it up. The woman snatches her bag back and flees, and Mrs. Bandini tells Liz to call security and tell them a woman was posing as Mr. Kamara’s sister.

I *love* this scene, and the one that follows, when Mrs. Bandini and Mrs. Larabee describe the woman to the police. Liz knows the woman was blonde, middle-aged, and wearing “great” clothes and jewelry, but the two older women have, like, instantaneously dissected everything about her:

Mrs. Bandini subtly slid in front of me. “The woman was wearing a Liz Claiborne outfit, cream-colored silk. Costly, but not too costly. I have a Liz Claiborne blouse myself. She was about five feet six, but she was wearing three-inch heels. Beige lizard shoes and matching handbag. I didn’t catch the label on the handbag. She was in her forties, but I recognize a good face-lift when I see it. She wasn’t a natural blonde by any means. I know the shade. It’s called ‘golden ash,’ and her hair was pulled back into a French knot. Not many women wear a French knot any longer, so I think she did her hair that way just for this occasion.”

Mrs. Bandini ran out of breath, so Mrs. Larabee picked up the string of words and ran with it. “Her jewelry wasn’t all real gold. The bracelet was. It had inscriptions on it—sort of like Egyptian hieroglyphics—and the chain could have been.”

“Maybe yes, maybe no,” Mrs. Bandini said. “Although I prefer no.”

“I’m telling this now,” Mrs. Larabee said to her friend.

Mrs. Bandini shrugged and let Mrs. Larabee continue.

“The earrings were definitely not,” Mrs. Larabee said. “They were costume jewelry and a little too large for her face.”

“Decidedly,” Mrs. Bandini said.

Lamar’s pen had been wildly dashing across his notepad. Now he looked up at the three of us.

“Anything else?”

“Blue eyes,” Mrs. Bandini said. “There is no way she could have been Mr. Kamara’s sister. And there was no way she was Mrs. Kasha Vendra, as as she said she was, when the name on her driver’s license was Lily Payne.” (pp. 131-132)

You guys, this scene is EVERYTHING. I would willingly buy an entire series based around these three characters. Also I adore the way the slight cattiness/gossipy-ness associated with these two older women turned out to be dead useful, shrewd-eyed observational skills.

Fantastic.

Art Mart shows up and Liz lets him know about the woman, and he gets crabby and complains that nobody tells him anything even those he’s the one in charge of this club.

Fran shows up at the end of Liz’s shift. She’s found a suspicious guy in the sauna, and Fran gets put in a headlock by a security guard called Peter. Once that’s been straightened out the guy in the sauna turns out to be just a drunk hotel guest trying to sweat out a head cold.

Then in the parking lot they see a kitchen worker retrieving a wrapped package from the trash. Liz works out that the stolen meat is being wrapped, dropped in the trash, then picked up in the night. Gross, but okay. She refers to this as the “woodwind section” of the orchestra, because the heavy-handed “the unrelated crimes are being conducted by a boss” metaphor is still a thing in this book. Sigh.

They go back to tell Lamar all that, since apparently Lamar’s shift NEVER ends. Liz is, once again, completely unable to give a coherent or sensible description of the person. Fran, however, can actually NAME the guy, because he sees him in the kitchen every day. Ha.

Liz goes home, sees the locket, and mentions to Fran that Mr. Kamara gave it to her. Fran takes Dolly Parton’s picture out, hinting heavily that “then the locket will be ready for someone else’s picture” (just STOP already), and finds a mysterious piece of paper. It has a list of six names on it, and dates and cities. FINALLY, A CLUE.

Liz is bright enough to realize Mr. Kamara must have hidden the note, but she turns down Fran’s offer to take the note with him, because she thinks that no one but Fran knows she has it. Okay, but…several people know you have the locket, so it’s only a matter of time before someone works it out. CALL THE POLICE, LIZ.

She doesn’t though. Instead she copies out the list, and hides the copy under her mattress.

The net morning she answers calls from Tina, Mr. Parmegan, and Art Mart, without fully waking up either time. After the call from Art she gets up and gets dressed, and calls Detective Jarvis. He’s not in, though, and she doesn’t leave a message.

Fran shows up with lunch, and they rehash everything they know and reach exciting new conclusions, but…it’s all stuff we already know (like the ID cards/pickpocket connection) or that I don’t care about (like, someone had to have given the kitchen guy a copy of Liz’s schedule so he could retrieve the meat after she was gone, since the only times she saw him at the garbage she’d stay late). I mean, that only proves that the crimes connected to the hotel must be being “orchestrated” by someone who works at the hotel, and I feel like we’ve been over that a billion times now.

They go to the hotel to look around the pool area, and find that one of the fake trees has a hiding place in the trunk. Again: I don’t care. This is all just killing time and filling pages until the big reveal, which happens soon.

Mrs. Bandini has baked cookies for Liz, and when Art Mart wanders past she invites him to have one, and then cheerfully babbles on about how they’re not as nice as the locket Mr. Kamara gave Liz. Art is way too interested in the locket, and wants to know why Liz isn’t wearing it. She claims it wouldn’t look right with her uniform. Then Deeley helpfully mentions that Liz and her friend found a hole in the ficus tree, and oh my god, why is everybody suddenly an idiot??

Liz gets a call later that night from her next-door neighbour, the one who’d been asked to keep an eye on Liz/the house, because she just had to call the police because someone broke into Liz’s house! Gee, I wonder who and why?

Mrs. Zellendorf (the neighbour) has also called Liz’s parents, and they’re coming home that day instead of waiting until Monday.

Liz now really, really wants to tell Lamar about the locket, but he’s not in yet. She confides in Tina, who offers to take it to Lamar (and who is entirely unoffended when Liz then panics and won’t tell her where the locket is).

Lamar doesn’t show up, and then it’s after eleven. Liz starts to close up and then Art Mart corners her in the office and OH NO HE’S THE BAD GUY. Obviously. Liz tries lying that she gave the list to Tina, but he was listening and knows that isn’t true. She stalls him with questions, and it turns out he killed Kamara himself to get the list (of men in the “syndicate”). Then he grabs her, feels the locket, and rips the pocket of her shorts off the get it.

Lamar and Detective Jarvis rush in, and Art tosses the list into the pool. He’s got Liz as a hostage, but she bites him and when he knocks her away, she manages to accidentally kick him in the chin. Ha.

Then her parents show up, because this scene isn’t eventful enough I guess.

In the final chapter we find out Art Mart is spilling names, the police have Liz’s copy of the list, and Mrs. Bandini really does have a tall, handsome grandson named Eric.

Liz, however, politely turns him down, because Fran accused her of not being able to accept people for who they really are. This bit of male petulance makes Liz see the truth: she only daydreams about conducting an orchestra because she wants to be able to control other people! By wanting to date someone tall, she was not accepting Fran for who he really is!

So she tells Fran he’s the guy she wants to be with, and then offers to introduce Tina to Eric.

Final Words: I am so conflicted about Fran. I like him and his sense of humour, and I feel sympathy for his oh-so-tragic shortness, but I resent feeling manipulated into sympathizing with him.

Male shortness is such a “manosphere” issue; “but we’re judged for being short” always comes up as the response to how women are judged on appearance. And I get that it sucks! The vast majority of us don’t look the way we’d like to, and it hurts to be judged for things you didn’t choose and can’t change.

So “men are rejected for being short” is true. Something can be true and still irritate me, I guess. Especially something like this, which is so often used to shut down women’s conversations on being perceived as attractive/unattractive.

This book is a particularly egregious example of how men’s issues push aside women’s conversations. Here we have a book with a female author, and a female main character, and I’m a female reader, and we still have to waste huge amounts of time and emotional energy on Fran’s height. The author goes out of her way to sell him to us: he’s funny! He’s considerate! He’s a good kisser! And that’s all supposed to be enough reason for Liz to ignore her own desires, and we’re supposed to applaud her for giving up her daydream of a handsome tall guy (a very realistic daydream, since she meets him in the end!) because it proves she’s not shallow or something.

Ugh. Just once, can’t we stop judging women for having opinions about men’s attractiveness?

What really gets to me about this is that while the book expends a lot of words showing off Fran’s good qualities as-seen-and-experienced by Liz, here’s what we have in terms of why he likes her:

“You’re very pretty,” he suddenly said. (p. 16)

“It’s a good-looking nose. Take care of it,” Fran said. (p. 29)

“You have very long legs,” he said, “which look good in shorts. I noticed. But all legs aside, the point I’m trying to make is that when we’re sitting down our bodies are the same height. See?” (p. 34)

“Don’t be embarrassed,” he said. “You’re beautiful enough to get away with a little clumsiness.” (p. 77)

“Don’t change on my account,” he said. “You look good to me even with that sickening guck on your face.” (p. 121)

I get that we spend the book in Liz’s head, not Fran’s, so I suppose we could imagine that he’s also really appreciating her wit and bravery. But we’re not SHOWN that, so it reads like she’s convincing herself to like him because of his personality, but he’s allowed to just want her for her looks.

He does, at least, try to figure out things Liz will genuinely like; he banters with her; she clearly enjoys his company and his kisses. I just wish all the banter and invitations to the fair or to see the symphony were interspersed with any kind of proof that he likes her personality, and not just her appearance.

Also, for a book that so skillfully shows that insta-psychologizing people is amusing and shallow, it sure did a 180 when it let Fran devastate her by reducing her long-term dream to “you just want to control people.” Boy, it’s a pretty big leap from “you don’t find my shortness attractive” to “YOUR GOALS ARE FALSE.” Sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.

Anyway. On to my favourite characters, Mrs. Bandini and Mrs. Larabee. I LOVED THEM SO MUCH. I dithered a little at the start of the book, because I liked them but didn’t like the way they were always undermining each other. It was like a sharp-edged middle-aged “mean girls” for a while there.

But the more often I saw them, the more they grew on me. Also: these ladies are sixty-five and seventy. By that age, they’re allowed to interact in whatever acerbic fashion they find entertaining, you know?

 

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