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Friday, February 2, 2018

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

Mariner Books, 320 pages, $14.99 (c2017, paperback c2018)

There is a murder mystery in this story somewhere. Maybe. But mostly “On Turpentine Lane” is a ‘ship book. As in relationship. Aka stars in the eyes luuurv. It is murder mystery lite.
Faith Frankel has a secret fiancé, Stuart. He gave her a red thread as an engagement ring and then took off on an open-ended walk — if you don’t count the number of times he has hitchhiked — across America to find himself. His precepts about walking across the country seem to be loosely defined. He is a secret because he didn’t think it necessary to let anyone know. Faith loyally maintains a credit card that Stuart uses (abuses?). She earns her money by being in charge of stewardship at her old private school. (That means she writes a lot of thank you notes and cultivates alumni donors.)

Faith has been househunting with the thought in mind that eventually she and Stuart would get married. Strangely, though, she picks a tiny two-bedroom home, just right for one. It comes with a history which, in the best mystery tradition, she doesn’t learn until after she has signed on the dotted line.

Left behind in the attic are photos of twin babies. Who are they? As far as Faith knows the prior occupant had only one daughter. And three husbands, all of whom died propitiously. Nothing was ever proven, however. Years later a detective shows up at Faith’s new house and wants to search her basement. Uh, oh.

One of Faith’s colleagues is Nick. He is a fundraising hotshot who used to work at Exeter doing the same thing. Fortunately, he is easy to get along with. Faith keeps Nick up-to-date on her trials and tribs, and he maintains a sympathetic ear. If you were writing this book, what would you do with Faith’s errant fiancé and Nick’s crazy girlfriend? Sorry, no points will be awarded for guessing right, because this is just too easy.

Predictability aside, it’s a humorous, charming story about love, fundraising, family dysfunction, and blood in the cellar.

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