Beating the Babushka
A Cape Weathers Mystery by Tim Maleeny
Review: A perfect example of not judging a book by its cover or title: an exciting, well-written thriller is hidden behind the poor choice of an irrelevant cover photograph and the odd, off-putting title of Beating the Babushka, the second mystery in the Cape Weathers series by Tim Maleeny.
Grace Gold, a producer with a movie studio based in New York City, is working on a film in San Francisco when her partner jumps to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. Though the police rule it a suicide, she doesn't believe it and hires Cape Weathers to investigate what really happened. When Cape is threatened by Russian mobsters, he realizes this case is far more complicated that he originally thought. When asked what it was he was investigating, he replies, "I'm not sure. I thought I was investigating a murder, then drugs, and now I think it's something else entirely." And so it is. As Cape delves into the world of high budget movie making, he quickly learns that what seems to be real may just be an illusion.
The opening chapters set the tone for Beating the Babushka. Crisply written narrative and dialog convey much about the characters with a minimum of effort. Consider this early exchange between Grace and Cape at their first meeting:
"Rebecca Lowry said I could trust you," [Grace] said pointedly, watching him.
"That's nice of her." So much for small talk. Let the interview begin.
"She said you could find anyone."
"Most people don't know the good hiding places."
"She also said you almost got killed trying to help her."
"Rebecca was somewhat prone to exaggeration," replied Cape.
"She also said you were modest."
"She mention that I was charming?"
Cape nodded. "Rebecca was also prone to understatement."
Much later in the book, a similar exchange between Cape and a man nicknamed the Pole, also involving trust, takes place:
Cape studied the Pole for a minute before answering. "You had me checked out."
"You have not lied to me," said the Pole, adding, "yet."
"Which means I can be trusted?"
"It means you are smart."
This is all very well done, and typical of how the characters are developed throughout the entire book. The plot is brisk and just convoluted enough to be credible without slipping into the absurd (though it tests that boundary on occasion). The author's inclusion of real studios and films adds a dash of authenticity and a bit of ironic humor to the story; Empire Studios, however, is fictional (albeit clearly based on a real film studio).
The title refers to a lesson the Pole's mother taught him, that beating his babushka (Russian for grandmother, or in his case, a cherished old friend of the family) at chess would help him see things clearly in life so that he could survive. This reference is too obscure to use as the title, the only serious flaw of this otherwise exceptional thriller.
Acknowledgment: Midnight Ink provided a copy of Beating the Babushka for this review.
Review Copyright © 2007 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), June 2009
ISBN-13: 9781590585740; ISBN-10: 1590585747
Location(s) referenced in Beating the Babushka: San Francisco, California
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Beating the Babushka by Tim Maleeny — A Cape Weathers Mystery
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: October 2007
List Price: $14.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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