The Busy Body
“I tell other people's stories for a living.
“You can call me a ghostwriter, though usually I just say I ‘freelance’ which is vague and boring enough to put an end to strangers’ polite inquiries . . . That's a lie . . . About my supposed friends. I have lots of acquaintances, colleagues, and associates—an assortment of people pepper my existence so that if you saw me from the outside you think my life was perfectly full. There are times it seems full even to me. But the truth is I don't have any friends.”
Thus opens Kemper Donovan’s The Busy Body where we meet the ghostwriter who has just received the most plum assignment of her career, collaborating with Dorothy Gibson, who just lost the presidential election and has retreated to her lovely abode outside a small town in Maine. Readers might be forgiven for thinking of Hilary Clinton when meeting Dorothy and that’s because Donovan based her character on the former first lady. But she’s also an amalgam of other female politicians including Sarah Palin, Amy Klobuchar, and Susan Collins—according to the author.
Told in first person, the ghostwriter alludes to a distant tragedy in her past as the reason for her walling herself off from emotional entanglements though we never learn the entire story—possibly Kemper is saving that for future books as it appears our protagonist will become involved in future mysteries.
The ghostwriting project quickly gets put aside when a murder occurs at the Crystal Palace, a three-story glass maze of cavernous spaces and no stairs that serves as both an event center and hotel overlooking the Crystal River next door to Dorothy’s estate. The first murder victim is a not-so-successful actress, Vivian Davis who has improved her financial and social status in the world by marrying Walter, her plastic surgeon with cold blue eyes, and a hot young assistant with whom he is having an affair. Walter has rented the Crystal Palace and invited one of his medical school classmates, a successful West Coast entrepreneur, to get him to invest in a revolutionary new plastic surgery product he’s invented. The week doesn’t begin well and only gets worse when Vivian is found dead, after apparently downing too many sleeping pills and drowning in her bathtub.
Shortly before her death, Dorothy and Vivian had a chance meeting, and the obligatory celebrity photo was taken by Vivian of the two of them. The shot goes viral after a toxicology report showed there were no drugs in her system. Vivian’s death is now labeled as a homicide and Dorothy, with her ghostwriter in tow, decides to do some sleuthing much to the ire of the local police.
Kemper uses his acerbic sense of humor coupled with a fast-moving plot and an interesting assortment of characters, each with a reason to kill, to make The Busy Body, with its twists and turns, a witty and fun whodunit.