chalk up another solved murder to amateur detective and London sculptress Sam Jones. The lusty arch-femme's latest adventure, Pretty Boy, takes place in a rustic British country town. As usual for Sam, she stumbles onto all kinds of ugly secrets while she's away on a weekend holiday visiting her best friend, with her city-loving movie-actor boyfriend in tow.
As soon as Sam and boyfriend return to London, where she starts to work on a commissioned installation of her fabulous giant motorized cockroaches, she gets a shocking phone call. One of the women she met in the sedate town has been murdered -- and the cops have arrested Sam's best friend. Sam hightails it back.
In between visits to a local pub, trips to the bathroom to snort coke and seducing the local pretty-boy tortured writer, who's half her age (but alas has no ass), Sam scratches the town's quiet surface and uncovers a handful of people with motives for murder.
Lauren Henderson's other gems starring the shameless Sam include The Black Rubber Dress and Freeze My Margarita. She's one of a small group of authors running www.tartcity.com, a Web site dedicated to a genre they've dubbed "tart noir." They describe the heroines of their books as neo-feminists; half Philip Marlowe and half femme fatale, they're women who believe they can save the world while wearing drop-dead dresses and stiletto heels.
Whatever. You get the point. Lots of fun, a sexy, independent female protagonist and vice galore. We're definitely not talking high literature, but Pretty Boy is an intriguing just-for-fun read.
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Pretty Boy by Lauren Henderson (Three Rivers), 345 pages, $12.95 paper. Rating: NNN