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A talented, often witty, but preciously overdone and lamely structured mystery debut. Caudwell's arch/cute narrator (""And you may think, dear reader. . ."") is young English law prof Hilary Tamar--who's visiting her barrister friends in London when they all learn that their hapless tax-lawyer chum Julia Larwood has just been arrested for murder in Venice (where she's recently gone for a man-hunting vacation). Thus, much of the book consists of the whole London circle sitting around while Julia's letters from Venice are read aloud: implausibly long, literarily polished letters which tell of Julia's infatuation with gorgeous fellow traveler Ned (a tax-man, as it happens). Also on Julia's ""Art Lover's"" tour: a junk-dealing Major, a posh antique-shop proprietress, and Ned's artist-friend (lover?) Kenneth. Julia reports these folks' suspicious doings, as well as her seduction-at-last of Ned; and the letters end just before Ned's murder. So then the London barristers do some sleuthing (all of Julia's fellow travelers have by now returned to England)--with a stolen painting among the possible motives, a Venetian showdown, and a complicated, farfetched solution à la Christie. The plot here, however, is largely beside the point. Caudwell is clearly more interested in the crisp banter of her barristers--a comical but overdrawn group (all the women have the same tart, cool manner) which is much less varied, believable, or likable than the Rumpole of the Bailey crowd. Still, even with a format that makes real involvement in the story impossible, this is stylish, scenic, and frequently amusing--promising work from a writer who may do much better once she stops trying so hard to be smart and funny.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Scribners