“Imitation of Death” by Cheryl Crane

You just can’t stop yourself.

When it comes to a project you’re interested in doing, you’ve got the tenacity of a toddler with a new toy, the grip of a pit bull, the grasp of a rock climber on a sheer cliff. Nothing deters you. You stick around to see the whole thing finished, no matter what.

You can’t let go.

Nikki Bordeaux Harper feels the same way, especially when it comes to the people she loves. In the new book “Imitation of Death” by Cheryl Crane, Nikki’s doggedness includes solving murders, too.

Realtor Nikki Harper should’ve been home.

The paint job in her kitchen should’ve been done and her mother, actress Victoria Bordeaux, should’ve had her Hollywood mansion all to herself again. Nikki would return to selling expensive houses and Victoria could enjoy semi-retirement.

That’s the way it should’ve been the morning that Eddie Bernard was found behind the Bordeaux mansion with gardening shears buried in his chest.

Eddie, son of Victoria ’s long-time neighbor, Abe, had just gotten out of rehab two weeks prior. Not one to give up his drugs, he’d thrown a party the night before that culminated in several fights.

One of the loudest was with Victoria ’s gardener, Jorge. Everybody saw it happen. Everybody knew Jorge and Eddie detested one another. And since the shears had Jorge’s name engraved on the handles, everybody knew they were his.

Jorge was the son of Victoria ’s housekeeper, and Nikki had known him forever. She was sure he didn’t kill Eddie; Jorge wasn’t that kind of guy.

Yes, he had reason, but so did just about everybody. Eddie had been messing around with too many women with jealous boyfriends. Abe’s second wife, Ginny, reportedly loathed her stepson. There were a lot of people at the party who seemed to want Eddie for his money and his drugs, and Nikki heard rumors that some of the hangers-on were “dangerous.”

Still, she couldn’t let Jorge go to jail for something he didn’t do. She had to know who really killed Eddie, but someone definitely wanted her to stop looking…

Ho boy. Finally! A mystery that isn’t revealed on page 25.

Nope, author Cheryl Crane keeps the speculation going by tossing all kinds of false leads in her readers’ way and by leading us down thought-paths we know are wrong but that are fun anyhow. The characters here seem to be a loose blending of real Hollywood folks (Crane is the daughter of Hollywood ’s Lana Turner) a feature that turns into a guessing-game and that moves this story right along.

Add in a few ingenious plot twists, some things that surprise us as much as they surprise the characters, a definite lack of four-letter words, and no gratuitous violence, and wow! We have a winner!

Whodunit fans who hate the let-down of a too-solvable mystery will love this delightfully tangled novel, the second in a semi-series that can be read as a standalone. Just remember, though: once you start reading “Imitation of Death,” you’ll never be able to stop yourself.