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The Skirt Man    by Shelly Reuben order for
Skirt Man
by Shelly Reuben
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

As the title of Shelly Reuben's newest novel suggests, readers should prepare themselves to be entertained by an unusual mystery that includes a rather singular character with an unusual affectation. Reuben's title character, more correctly known as Morgan Mason, is a sixty-three year old farmer in Killdeer, New York. With a reputation around town for being innocent and unobtrusive, Mason is regarded by many as 'no more offensive than a bad haircut or a corny joke.' However, as a reclusive man of many secrets, the solitary Mason's most identifiable character trait - at least as observed by the townspeople who actually know very little about the man - is his habit of driving around town on his tractor while he is wearing a skirt rather than trousers.

When 'the skirt man,' however, is found dead in his burned out farmhouse, the mystery begins and the questions accumulate: Was the fire accidental? Had Mason died in the fire? Was something more sinister involved? What secrets hold the key to answering these questions?

Enter Annie Bly (reporter for the County Courier and Gazette), her husband Sebastian (an investigator with the New York State Police), and her brother Billy Nightingale (a fire marshal from New York City). These three together try to get to the bottom of what actually happened to 'the skirt man.' In the course of their investigation, the Blys, Nightingale, and the local chief of the volunteer fire department are assisted in some surprising ways by Sebastian and Moe Dillenbeck (two extraordinarily 'unidentical twins' who had been friends with Mason), confounded by Creedmore Snowdon (an eccentric television producer with a dubious background and a bizarre fascination with the paranormal), and more than a little bit puzzled by a few of the other people in Killdeer including, among others, Lillian Roadigger (a part-time nurse who apparently had some limited contact with Mason) and her elderly husband Vernon.

So, with this as the background and premise, you now have a short preview into Shelly Reuben's latest tale in which fire figures so prominently. Reuben writes self-assuredly and clearly, using her own professional background as fuel for the plot; after all, she has twenty years experience as a licensed private detective and certified fire investigator in New York, so she certainly ought to know something about fires, crimes, and investigations. This is Ms. Reuben's sixth book, and - if you're looking for a diversionary entertainment to light up some idle hours - The Skirt Man is filled with plenty of technical information about fire investigations, quite a few flamboyant characters, and a sufficiently combustible supply of well-plotted adventures and surprises.

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