Thursday, August 7, 2014

Model Murder (Alicia Allen Investigates) by Celia Conrad

A Model Murder is the first in a trio of books about Alicia Allen, an Anglo-Italian lawyer based in London, England.  The books are British from the first word, "Strewth" (an exclamation), through to the end of the third book.  Anglo/Italophiles will enjoy these books the most, and if you happen to be a lawyer (or solicitor or barrister), you should enjoy them even more. 

The author calls the books "cosy-legals" or "legal-novels".  These are not the "cute-cozies" that have taken the U.S. by storm lately.  These are old-fashioned, British cosies that ask you to sit back, relax, and live vicariously through the protagonist, as she lets you into her life, in the first-person, and introduces you to her friends, family, colleagues, and all her adventures.

The London location is strong in the books, with street names, districts, restaurants, cafes and clubs mentioned.  This may appeal to Londoners, and Anglophiles.

Alicia Allen's mother is Italian, so the text is sprinkled with Italian words when the bilingual Alicia speaks with her sister, her Italian mother, and some Italian friends.  Alicia's character is shaped by her dual heritage.  That is why I am reviewing the book(s) here, on this blog. 

Hyphenated Alicia is closer to her family than hyphenated Italians might be if they live in the U.S., Canada, or Australia, since England is not so far from Italy, allowing for regular visits to her Italian relations.  Alicia also behaves much like an Italian, dedicating lots of time to her social life, and in staying close to her wide group of friends.

Alicia's mother may ring a few bells for hyphenated Italian readers everywhere.  Here is her mother's first words after not seeing her daughter for while:
My goodness carina mia, you are so thin.  You do not eat enough.  Mangia, mangia, mangia!

The characters in A Model Murder are diverse.  Right away, we start to meet the various suspect characters who may end up victim or killer, and certainly suspects.  If you are like me, and you like your books to be a surprise, then avoid the book descriptions, since they include many spoilers, plot elements, that are more fun to discover on your own.

This British cosy is rougher than an American cozy would be.  The nature of the murder, and the misogyny of many of the men in the book, is harsh and revolting.  There are also probably more details than American readers are used to in their cozies, which have been pared down over the years to the bare essentials.

This book is full of details that are not there in relation to the mystery, but are there purely to create a scene or an atmosphere.  Americans may find the pace slow, and the abundance of phone conversations unusual, and the lack of commas jolting.  The story itself is not artificially condensed, as many American books like to do.  The story in A Model Murder takes place, realistically, over quite a few months. 

These are not criticisms.  I am just pointing these things out so American readers understand that this is a British novel, written to different standards than mass-market American novels.

We see inside the life of a young lawyer, through Alicia's story. The author is also a lawyer, when she is not writing, so I'm assuming the legal details are accurate.  Through Alicia, a very good listener, we get inside the lives of some of her clients, too, and inside the lives of many of the people she deals with every day. 

I had to smile when I read in  A Model Murder Alicia mentioning Garibaldi Biscuits (cookies).  The cookies were named in honor of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian General who united Italy through his military campaigns in the 1680s.  Britain's "Garibaldis" are a continual reminder of his once worldwide fame.

This wouldn't be a cozy without a potential love interest.  In Alicia's case, her matter-of-fact legal style of narration makes a fun contrast to her budding relationship.
We stood there for a moment and I thought he was going to kiss me but the moment passed and we carried on walking.  I admit to feeling disappointed.  Despite my protestations to Kim that he was not my type I was very much attracted to him.
The romantic story arcs over the three books, with a conclusion in the third book.

In America, Giuseppe Garibaldi was a brand of Macaroni

There are three books in the Alicia Allen Investigates series (trilogy).  Here are the book descriptions.  Beware of spoilers!  And I'll start with the book's trailer.

A Model Murder
This first book in the Alicia Allen Investigates Trilogy introduces Alicia Allen, a 29-year-old London Anglo-Italian lawyer whose desire for Pringles is matched only by her desire to solve crime. When her neighbor—a beautiful aspiring Australian model—is found raped and murdered before she can pick up her first paycheck at a sleazy “hostess” club, Alicia ignites with such passion to bring the wrongdoer to justice, it would make even Portia envious.

As her dangerous quest draws her into the dark world of exploitative “hostess clubs,” Alicia finds herself facing similar circumstances in a new law firm where alpha males roam the halls in solicitor suits intimidating or stalking undervalued female coworkers. Worse luck, the deeper she delves into the investigation, the more her comfortable world falls apart. Friends are viciously attacked...potential lovers may not be what they seem...clues pop up in Italian opera, Shakespeare, and a cat.

Alicia finds her willingness to risk her own life for the sake of justice is sorely put to the test in a world where Fate plays no small role.

Wilful Murder
The second mystery in the Alicia Allen Investigates trilogy lures the justice-loving solicitor out of London and into the shadowy depths of the Land Down Under where nothing is what it seems and a risky Trust could lead to murder.
Alicia's quest takes her to Australia - coinciding with an Australian friend's wedding in Brisbane where Alicia's old flame Alex Waterford has also been invited. Alex, a London lawyer now working in Singapore for a British firm, confesses his love for Alicia, but events conspire to make the pursuit of justice more important than personal desires, and the duo join forces to solve the crimes. Putting questions of love on the back burner, they put their own lives on the line as they search for the answer to the murderous mystery that lies just beneath the misleadingly placid surfaces of Probate, Wills and a Trust.

Murder in Hand
Alicia Allen - the London solicitor with such a passion for justice, it would make even Portia envious - returns to star in this novel set in London and Italy. Also on board is Alicia's love interest and fellow solicitor, Alex Waterford, who is as willing as she is to take on the Mafia in this tangled mystery of corruption on both sides of the law.

The case brings to the surface our heroine's Italian heritage and willingness to take on dark forces to bring about justice; but in her bid to entrap the perpetrators, has Alicia taken on malevolent forces too great, and will this be her last investigation?

Alicia's favorite food, called by the brand name Pringles in the books, called "Crisps" in Britain, and Potato Chips in America

Here are direct links to the books at

Please visit the author's website, her Facebook page, and join her on Twitter.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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