A French refugee movie star’s visit to an exclusive Manhattan beauty salon creates all kinds of havoc, especially when she wonders aloud before the newspaper photographers just how much breast it is okay to reveal in America. The salon’s staff is falling all over themselves to insure that this publicity stunt doesn’t backfire while the salon’s regular clients are feeling a bit ignored. But when this “French Lana Turner” is found dead under a very fancy mudpack, Captain Anthony Torrent, the English-born, ballet-loving homicide detective, is at a loss to understand why. After all, she just got out of Nazi-occupied France and, other than her traveling companion, doesn’t really know a soul in America. Luckily, Torrent finds a helpful ally at the salon in the person of its very cynical exercise director, Toni Ney, who shares Torrent’s love for both the ballet and solving murders. At first, Toni resists doing any sleuthing on her own but finally gives into temptation, aided by her boyfriend, Eric Skeets, a Spanish Civil War veteran now working as the salon’s publicity director. First published in 1943, this is a sparkling comedy of manners, laced with clues and jokes in equal measure. Anthony Boucher, for whom the World Mystery Convention is named, chose Painted for the Kill as one of the best debut mysteries of 1943.
“Painted for the Kill introduces Toni Ney, physical trainer and jujitsu instructor at a posh Manhattan salon that will remind you of the setting for Claire Boothe Luce’s The Women. When a French movie star is murdered during a mudpack treatment, Toni turns amateur sleuth. The novel has all the elements of a present-day cozy—specialized background, amateur sleuth with interesting job and independent nature, romantic misunderstandings, humor, suspense set-pieces, even a cat—but is miles better than most of today’s product, mainly because of a better sense of pace, a lack of tangential soap-opera complications, and some genuinely clued detection.”
—Jon L. Breen, Washington, D.C. Weekly Standard
“Painted for the Kill was originally published in 1943. It’s the first of two mysteries featuring Toni Ney and her cohort, Eric Skeets. Toni, a former dancer-turned-exercise trainer, works for an exclusive day spa and salon. It’s the kind of place with carefully cultivated ‘atmosphere,’ where the management takes itself a bit too seriously, talks a lot about loyalty, and at the same time, keeps a sharp eye on the employees. It’s a hugely successful business catering to the rich and famous of New York City and beyond. So the visit of a French starlet en route to Hollywood seems advantageous for all concerned. The salon gets more publicity, and the starlet gets the benefit of the beauty treatments — a simple concept. Unfortunately, one of these legendary beauty treatments proves lethal. The murder turns everything at the spa upside down. Clients, employees, management — all are possible suspects. Their various foibles and personality quirks threaten to overwhelm the police. Toni and Eric share their observations and insights with Captain Torrent, the officer in charge of the case, but just when he thinks he’s found the guilty party, she’s killed too. Then Toni starts her own investigation and it’s a race to see if she can outwit the killer. For a 60-year-old book, Painted for the Kill is surprisingly fresh. Aside from the odd topical reference here and there, this could be any contemporary mystery you would find in a bookstore. It’s also a very well-written and entertaining book. While Toni and Eric are definitely players in solving the case, they don’t try to take over the case from Captain Torrent. The reasoning behind their subsequent deeper involvement is plausible. I have an admitted liking for vintage novels, but that’s not what appeals to me primarily about this book. Painted for the Kill is funny and human and just a great read. Interesting characters, a great premise, and a really deft hand on the part of the late Ms. Cores make this one of the better mysteries I’ve read in a long time.”
—Michelle L. Zafron, Reviewing the Evidence
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