Book Review: Renovated to Death by Frank Anthony Polito
By Janet WebbMay 31, 2022
Renovated to Death is an appealing debut mystery. Before mystery author Peter “PJ” Penwell and his partner, actor JP Broadway, moved to the bucolic (and fictional) Detroit suburb of Pleasant Woods, they lived the life in New York City. Now they share a gig as the stars and producers of the new hit reality home reno show Domestic Partners. HGTV fanatics, this one’s for you.
Peter and JP revel in their new digs. They put in months of TLC to turn their Craftsman Colonial into a showpiece. Their house is the star of the first season and the audience applauds their efforts. The icing on the cake of Renovated to Death is the lovely, detailed descriptions of how the couple performed a labor of love on their unique house. What really made it come to life was DIY sweat equity. Peter is justifiably proud of his meticulous, painstaking work.
“Don’t even get me started on the paint splatters.”
“Oh, I won’t!”
This was a private joke between us and our HDTV viewers, the result of my finding a million tiny flecks of latex speckling the six-inch wood baseboards of every single room in our new house.
After slipping on our slippers, we headed farther into the home through a single French door that I’d also painstakingly stripped, sanded, restained, and varnished in order to restore its original splendor. Comprised of fifteen leaded glass panes, with a vintage brass-plated lever style handle, the portal into our twelve-by-fourteen dining room gave the entryway a sense of sheer elegance.
Now, the couple must find a suitable property to renovate in season two. It’s a source of tension because Peter and JP are homebodies, enjoying a low-key life. Their television show and their delight in domesticity keep them off the brunch and karaoke circuit. They turn down more invitations than they accept. Nevertheless, finding a house is going to require some outreach. The real estate motto may be “location, location, location” but when it comes to the television renovation world, the paramount need is for houses worthy of renovation. Is it time to shake down their friendship group, to embrace the pressure and a “need for speed?” Perhaps they should schmooze the local real estate agent.
They reluctantly hit the party circuit. At the tail-end of a dinner party, Tom asks them to come by his parent’s house in the morning. Tom thinks the house might work for season two.
“Actually, we’ve got a previous appointment,” JP said, politely declining Tom’s invitation.
Cam raised a suspicious eyebrow. “What appointment would that be?” Suddenly, he gasped in horror. “You guys aren’t adopting a baby, are you?”
“God, no!” I swallowed my last bite of apple crumble, trying not to choke at Cam’s question. “But close.”
“We’re adopting a dog,” JP clarified for everyone’s benefit, sounding super excited. “Well, we’re meeting a dog that we’re hoping to adopt.”
“OMG!” Cam cheered in approval. “I wanna see a picture!”
Peter and JP may have to modify their dog-parenting timetable. Can they afford to blow off Tom’s invitation to tour his parent’s house? It’s a Tudor Revival and it still has the original linoleum and a pink-tiled bathroom. Their audience will eat it up. Also, Tom is a local celebrity. He has an identical twin brother, Terry, but everyone knows that Terry’s the curmudgeon while Tom is the star.
At forty, he operated his own business, lived in a big house on Pleasant Woods’s west side, and drove a brand-new BMW. He took care of himself, working out five times a week in the community center, and the results were apparent. For a man his age, Tom Cash had an awesome body!
Everything seems in train for a successful pairing of renovators and house that needs restoring. Peter and JP head over to the Cash house to finalize details and are shattered when they stumble over a dead body.
Sporting his favorite blue and gold U of M ball cap, dressed in the same dark athletic attire he’d worn to Fairway Bob’s dinner party the evening before, Tom Cash lay facedown on the floor near the bottom of the rickety old staircase . . .
Oh well, accidents happen. They noticed when they first checked out the house that the staircase had a wonky step. Unfortunately, the police rule that Tom’s death is a homicide, not an accidental death. The list of suspects is lengthy and specific to Tom’s lifestyle. Tom was gay, always with an attractive boyfriend in tow, reputedly never dating a guy once they turned thirty. Peter and JP are renovators and television stars, not investigators, but in his former life, Peter was a mystery author. How could it hurt to do a little sleuthing? If they can discover the murderer, then they can get started on season two. The list of possible suspects is long: the “crabby next-door-neighbor, the Realtor ex-boyfriend, the bartender ex-boyfriend, the other, much younger, ex-boyfriend, or even renovation-reluctant brother, Terry?” That’s a lot of exes to investigate.
Renovated to Death is fast-paced, modern, and sparkling with irreverent humor. It’s easy to envision Domestic Partners as a real-life HGTV series. Let us inside Peter and JP’s Craftsman Colonial, show us the menu of their favorite brunch spot, and save us a spot at the gay karaoke bar. The first Domestic Partners mystery is a winner—bring on more adventures in murder and home design.