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The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado by Marele Day
From the Dustjacket
Claudia Valentine is back! Claudia Valentine, Australia's spunkiest female private eye returns - in her most exhilirating adventure.
Being a minder for Dolores Delgado was no trouble at all for Claudia. Dolores slept all morning, shopped all afternoon and danced all night. Hanging out with this exotic and beautiful creature was fun as much as work.
Then, things got complicated. Dolores dropped dead. On stage. With barely a mark on her perfect body. Claudia had never lost a client before. Let alone one who was also a friend. This was not going to be good for business.
Claudia's investigation leads her into a steamy world of passion and intrigue, of death and double crosses, of romance and revenge. And finally to the truth hidden beneath the layers of dazzling deception.
Publisher : Allen & Unwin
First published : 1992
ISBN : 186373323X
No. Pages : 218 pages
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Right up until the moment Dolores Delgado dropped dead on the dance floor, Claudia Valentine really enjoyed working as the dancer's minder. Claudia Valentine, the sassy Sydney private investigator who was introduced to us in The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender and then returned in The Case of the Chinese Boxes, hits us again with a 3rd perplexing mystery in The Last Tango Of Dolores Delgado.
Before Dolores died, Claudia thought that she had gotten to know the dancer pretty well, after all she had been her confidante and constant companion for over 2 weeks, rarely parting from each others company. But while investigating her death it becomes apparent that Dolores kept some pretty mind-boggling secrets and as Claudia keeps digging the more amazing the secrets become. The more Claudia learns though, the more dangerous she is to Dolores' killer, potentially putting her own head on the chopping block.
Claudia takes the unusual step of disguising herself as her former employer in a bid to fool the killer into thinking he had failed in his first murder attempt and would try again. A good but dangerous plan. In her efforts to flush the killer out she also manages to see a lot of Sydney, thus providing the reader with a comprehensive tour of Sydney city and all points west to the suburb of Lidcombe (made doubly interesting to me because this was the suburb in which I grew up).
When going through Dolores' things while "being Dolores" it doesn't take long for Claudia to realise that she didn't really know the woman she was minding nearly as well as she thought she did. In fact, it begins to look as though Dolores Delgado was up to all sorts of mischief and it may very well have resulted in getting her killed.
One small problem I had with the book was that, at times, I felt the pace was inordinately slow due to Claudia's reluctance to take action in many situations. Too many times, rather than take the initiative and forcing things to happen, potentially exciting encounters were allowed to simply fizzle out as she decides to give up a chase or not to chase at all, or she allows herself to be followed without confronting her pursuer.
Claudia Valentine remains an engaging character combining an admirable air of self-assurance with a quick wit. Sadly for her she's nowhere near as funny as she thinks she is with her clever one-liners falling like lead balloons to a consistently unappreciative audience, much to her chagrin and our amusement. When trying to compare her with some of the more well-known female P.I.'s I would say she reminds me most of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski. She's a dogged, determined investigator who doesn't know how to give in and has the toughness to take care of herself should it come to a fight.
For the most part, the tone of Claudia's narration remains light and breezy. Even when she finds herself in a dangerous situation she invariably points out a humorous aspect to her dilemma. This use of humour is actually a clever device that serves to highlight when things become truly ominous and all signs of humour evaporate and a definite sense of desperation creeps in.
As a long-time Sydneysider I enjoyed following Claudia around the suburbs of Sydney and felt that Marele Day managed to capture the different moods of each suburb perfectly. From the trendy heart of Kings Cross with its shabby underbelly out west to the working class Five Dock and back to the more exclusive beach front of Coogee, the description of each part of Sydney is spot on - even down to the different class of graffiti adorning each area.
From a low-key beginning triggered by an untimely death, The Last Tango Of Dolores Delgado grows into a pot-boiler with more than one surprise twist along the way.
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