Snow White Red-Handed by Maia Chance

snow whiteThis was a fun book that combines a 19th century mystery with fairy tale folklore and a good dose of modern-day snark. Ophelia and Prudence are friends traveling to Europe for an acting job. Along the way, they lose their jobs and lie their way into maid positions with Mrs. Coop, who has a castle in the Black Forest near Baden Baden. While there, the man of the house is murdered with a poisoned apple, and Prue is accused of being both his daughter and his murderer. So it’s up to Ophelia to clear her name.

At the same time, a couple of scientists have traveled to the castle to investigate – and discredit – evidence that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves actually lived in the area many years ago. Since the relics have been stolen, Ophelia teams up with Professor Gabriel Penrose to investigate the murder, free her friend, and figure out whether Snow White existed.

Ophelia had glimpsed, through the gate and across the kitchen gardens, a mysterious barred door … Now, common sense hinted that the door might take a person up to the tower.  And when common sense hinted, well, wise ladies lent an ear.

Folks figured actresses were flibertigibbets who did nothing but practice melodramatic faces in the looking glass when they weren’t lolling on divans and mowing through boxes of chocolate creams.  But the truth was, actresses were some of the hardest working ladies you could find.  Theatrical life had made Ophelia as practical as an iron nail and, some claimed, just as hardheaded.

And she wouldn’t stand for this.  No, she would not.  The gumption, the absolute brass of that Schubert fellow, tossing Prue in the tower like yesterday’s dirty socks!

A lot of mysteries fall into a repetitive pattern of running around, interviewing people and finding clues (of course if you mind that, you’re probably not much of a mystery reader). But this book was a lot more fun, because both Prue and Ophelia end up investigating separately and each has different adventures. Which makes the book a little hard to keep track of at times, but it never slows down. It’s also a scenic look at the Black Forest and the towns of Baden-Baden and Heidelberg. It’s also fun to see 1800s characters investigating a much older story. Layers upon layers.

Chance is a clever writer, and much of the fun of this book is in the snappy, snarky dialogue, including frequent digs at the European class system and notions of women’s sexuality. For example, Gabriel thinks that because Ophelia is a maid, she must not know anything about sex – but as an actress, Ophelia has seen it all. Only if Gabriel knew she was an actress, he’d want nothing to do with her. Ophelia is a strong, independent woman who is well aware of her position in society (as an actress, she’s basically damaged goods) but determined to make the most of her life. The murder of Mr. Coop, who no one liked anyway, is the least interesting part of the story.

I’m not a big fan of fairy tale retellings, but that isn’t what you get with this book. You get mystery, archaeology, folklore, humor, and even a little romance. This was a fun clever, read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This book was published November 4, 2014.

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