cover image Fool's Gold

Fool's Gold

Vivien Armstrong, Author Severn House Publishers $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5531-2

Given the high standard of many British mysteries published in the U.S., it's a shame that this one lives up to its title. London artist Anabel Gordon grabs the wrong handbag when she flees a fire at a designer sale where a charred body is later found trapped in the loo. Since she, like a few others, attended the event using somebody else's invitation (in her case that of her fashion-magazine editor friend, Abigail Griffith), it's not an easy job to identify the corpse. When, despite her best efforts, Anabel is unable to return the bag and its contents--which include a wad of $100 bills and a false passport--to its owner, Twiggy-like model Kimberley Carter, she takes it with her on a long-planned trip to Italy. There she has a shady commission to paint an exact reproduction of a Whistler portrait. Back in London, Abigail falls victim to a sadistic killer, who evidently confuses her with Anabel. Shocked by the news of her friend's murder, Anabel eventually realizes that the handbag she took contains something far more valuable than cash or a fake passport. While her plot is ingenious, Armstrong (Dead in the Water, etc.) never gets beyond the surface details to imbue her characters with any real individuality. Neither is the author's gratuitous moralizing a substitute for sympathy or wit. The final two chapters, in which Kimberley receives her comeuppance, serve merely as a tawdry coda to this generic mystery. (Sept.)