Review: Teetotaled by Maia Chance

Teetotaled by Maia Chance
Teetotaled by Maia Chance
Teetotaled by Maia Chance is a sparkling new mystery that will delight readers with its clever plotting, larger-than-life characters, and rich 1920s atmosphere.

Ah, the Roaring Twenties! Forget the crime, the mystery, even the alluring setting—come for the flippant and fabulous vocabulary. Maia Chance is back, hard on the heels of her first Discreet Retrieval Agency book, Come Hell or Highball

Teetotaled, which is set in the Prohibition era, begins with an ever so appropriate epigraph:

Everything in life that’s any fun, as somebody wisely observed, is either immoral, illegal, or fattening
—P.G. Wodehouse

The ladies of the Discreet Retrieval Agency, widow Lola Woodby and Berta, her former cook and now partner, are down to their last dollar. They’re pining for their beaus who got away and wondering where they’re going to get their next meal. Tempers fray, and a whirring electric fan has little effect on the muggy temperature in their tiny shared flat. In her “stern Swedish accent,” Berta suggests that Lola stop reading Thrilling Romance and start finding clients.

Berta sent me a dirty look, patted her gray bun, and went back to her book. 

Is this what had become of the newly hatched Discreet Retrieval Agency? Two sweaty, bickering ladies waiting for ginky fellows to telephone?

We needed work.

Knock, knock. Society matron Mrs. Sophronia Whiddle hires them to retrieve her engaged daughter Grace’s indiscreet diary, citing their tag line, “No job too trivial.” One of Lola’s endearing qualities is her reluctance to share with her high-society family that she is working for a living. Berta overrides Lola’s worries and convinces her to accept the job. 

“If we are to make a go of this agency, we must do our utmost. Are you willing to do your utmost, Mrs. Woodby?”

Berta was right: I had to take the plunge. Say toodle-pip to my old life and take my future by the horns.

Off they go to Willow Acres Health Farm on Long Island where Grace Whiddle and Muffy Morris, her future mother-in-law, are guests. Muffy, the “thickset, yellow-coifed wife of Senator Winfield Morris,” is surrounded by an Agatha Christie-worthy cast of characters. Worth noting, it seems as if fat farms have changed very little in the last one hundred years. Consider the “exercise-apparatus room,” once a mansion’s ballroom:

But now, with all those steel contraptions and grimacing people, it could’ve been an up-to-date torture chamber. Three ladies pedaled stationary bicycles. A man trudged to nowhere on a grinding treadmill. Another man hoisted strongman weights, snorting, and two ladies wrestled huge rubber bands on the floor. Fun, fun, fun.

Lola escapes to a chaise longue by the pool as soon as possible, losing herself in “The Captivating First Installment” of a story titled “Hello, Darling.” The petulant farm girl and the smoldering, secretive bad boy … why on earth is Lola so captivated by Thrilling Romance?

Maybe I was too old to be reading that sort of thing, but the fact of the matter was, I was a rookie when it came to men. Every day I saw flappers playing fellows like forty-seven-string pedal harps while I was stuck on the bongo drum.

Thoughts of sophisticated flappers fade when Mrs. Muffy Morris is found murdered. Mrs. Whiddle fires them, but the two detectives are asked to find her murderer. Senator Winfield Morris, after admiring Lola’s snazzy brown-and-white Duesenberg, asks the pair to join him in his limousine. 

Purring about motorcars when his wife had only just kicked off? What a fink. “Well, I was just leaving, I said, “but it was nice to meet you, Senator—.”

Finks notwithstanding, Lola and Berta accept the case and off they go. Murders mount, mayhem ensues, money is so tight that Lola’s “precious Guerlain lipstick” is down to “its last creamy, vamp-red dregs,” but the ladies doggedly unravel the mystery surrounding the indiscreet diary. Teetotaled is a page-turning, laugh-out-loud romp. Bring on the third installment of the Discreet Retrieval Agency.

 

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Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!

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