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A headless cheerleader, an undercover drug dealer and a convict sleeping on your sofa: all in a day's work for administrator turned detective Heather Wells.
Meg Cabot, best known as author of the "Princess Diaries", also writes the occasional adult book, and her latest foray into this genre is the Heather Wells Mystery series which started with "Size 12 Is Not Fat", the prequel to Size 14... .
Heather Wells is an assistant director of a college dorm in New York City. When another student is killed on her watch, she feels compelled to get involved with the investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.
What's right with it?
This is, without a doubt, a fun book that reads fluidly, has a compelling story and includes just the right amount of suspense, excitement, danger and romance to make it to appeal to the broadest possible audience. The plot and character twists are predominantly surprising and not too predictable, until perhaps a couple of pages before they occur. The setting in a university hall of residence has not been done to death by other authors, so still appears fresh, and the glimpse into the world of fraternities interested me as someone who did not attend an American college.
What's wrong with it?
Heather is Obsessed with her figure. Really obsessed. And she bangs on about it all the time, whether it's when she's getting dressed (clothes seem to have shrunk) or failing to resist treats (the Krispy Kremes just call out to her). And, I have to say, it gets a little old. I know loads of girls are concerned about how they look, but that doesn't mean people want to read about it on every page. In fact the only saving grace regarding this is that Heather isn't a size 2 chica who asks 'Does my bum look big in this?' when she clearly knows it doesn't. Heather, however, does seem to spend her days trying to convince herself she's not overly large when, truth be told, she kinda is (NB: the title was originally for an American audience referring to their clothing sizes...and an American Size 14 is not exactly slim. I'm allowed to say this since The Boy lovingly told me last week I have the biggest bum of any girl he's ever dated. I'm a (UK) 10). What's most infuriating of all is that there is so much going on in Heather's life that you'd think she would realise how superficial some of her thoughts are. Sure, she may have chunky hips, but at least she's alive which is more than can be said for some of the students she's supposedly there to care for.
Secondly, the story is far fetched verging on the ridiculous. For a start, Heather is not just a dorm director working at a college to get a discount on tuition fees - she's also a former teen sensation, a now failed pop star who used to have the world at her feet. She has an ex-fiancé, himself a former boy bander, who is still floating around, but instead she lives with his non-famous private detective brother. Her mother previously fled the country with Heather's life savings, and her father is in prison. Are you groaning yet? It's just too much...
And yet, there's more.
The murder at the start of the book involves a bubbly blonde cheerleader Lindsay, and doesn't involve your usual stabbing, shooting or even poisoning. No, Lindsay has been decapitated, and her head left simmering on the hob in the dorm kitchen, the rest of her body mysteriously missing. But of course.
The chief suspects are close relatives of one of the college's main benefactors, a man who also owns half of Manhattan, or so it would seem. Throw in a sexually confused sportsman, some familiar faces from the local police force and a nutty psyc professor and you have the most unbelievable cast of characters and the most implausible storyline. A couple of those things would have worked fine, and a few more could have just about been accepted, but include everything I've described and more, and you have a truly ridiculous story that doesn't have time to grow or develop, leaving lots of plot lines only partially explored.
That's not to say it's an all together dreadful book, because it's not. Heather is an interesting anti-heroine, and Cooper, her landlord, is an intriguing leading man. For the most part the story hangs together, and the ending is no more far fetched than the rest of the tale (though as we've just seen above, that doesn't mean much). This book confused me because it seemed like a children's book with an adult setting. By this I mean that the simplicity of some of the statements and actions might not seem out of place to younger readers, but seem ludicrous to those who are more aware of the wider world.
If you want something to read that will entertain you, not tax your brain too much and read like the literary equivalent of the National Enquirer, then you might even enjoy this book, but if you're looking for something that is even remotely feasible, I would steer clear of this one. Recommended, cautiously, but mainly only for older teens who are bridging the gap from kiddie to adult books.
This review originally appeared under my name on www.thebookbag.co.uk