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    St. Martin's Minotaur, March 2001

    When Fellworth Dolphin's mother dies, she leaves him a substantial bank account, a box full of cash, and the suspicion that the money just may be the loot from a long-ago train robbery. Fell quits his job as a waiter, and with fellow ex-waitress Maggie Parlett, begins to construct a new life and seek the truth about the money. Adding a romantic element, Maggie has long had a crush on Fell. Fell, on the other hand, has never noticed Maggie as a woman.

    Everything starts out well enough. An attractive woman begins making moves on Fell, Maggie loses some weight and catches the eye of a newspaper reporter, and they are written up in the local newspaper. Violence against them begins to mount, however. The son of one of Fell's father's fellow railroad workers threatens to expose them if they don't share the railroad loot with him. Their house is searched and trashed. Finally someone blows up their car in a murder attempt. Solving the mystery becomes a matter of life and death rather than simply clearing up where the money came from.

    M. C. Beaton (click here to read BooksForABuck reviews of other novels by this author) writes an engaging mystery. Set in England, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET has a small town feeling. Both Fell and Maggie are well developed characters--sympathetic as much because of their flaws as despite them. The sexual tension between Fell and Maggie enhances the mystery. Despite Fell's blindness to her appeal, it is obviously only a matter of time before he falls for her.

    I would have prefered to see a little less attention paid to Melissa, Fell's fantasy woman, and more to the mystery. Also, Beaton relies too heavily on coincidence to drive the story forward. While there is no substitute for being in the right place at the right time, being there because you were going out to dinner gets a little old after the first couple of repetitions. Still, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET is an enjoyable read.

    Three Stars

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