The Gals Are Back – Summer Reading Suggestions

Brandy, Jane, Josie and Maggie are back. When I heard they were coming to visit, my heart beat faster. When I hold them in my hands, I think of song lyrics: I have grown accustomed to their faces—apologies to Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) in Lerner’s and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.” Each time I interact with them, their fictional persona lessens. Another book or two and they will be real.

If you do not know who Brandy Borne, Jane Wheel, Josie Prescott and Maggie Summers are, it is high time you do. They have been around for five years or more. Each is an amateur sleuth heroine in an antiques mystery series—Brandy Borne in A Trash ‘n’ Treasures Mystery; Jane Wheel in A Jane Wheel Mystery; Josie Prescott in A Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery; and Maggie Summers in An Antique Print Mystery. This column focuses on their latest adventures.

“Antiques Knock-Off”

Barbara Allan, a pseudonym for the husband and wife team of Max Allen and Barbara Collins, introduced Brandy Borne in “Antiques Road Kill.” I just finished reading “Antiques Bizarre” (Kensington Books, 2010) in paperback and “Antiques Knock-Off” (Kensington Books, 2011) in hard cover. Somehow I missed “Antiques Bizarre” when it was first published.

Brandy, a 31-year-old divorcée with a former husband and son living in Chicago, resides with her mother Vivian, a member of the Red Hat Society (one need hardly say more) and Sushi, a blind, diabetic shih tzu, in the small Midwestern town of Serenity, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Sister (well not quite, but I do not want to give away the storyline) Peggy Sue lives in the ritzy section of town. Brandy and Vivian have a booth at the local antiques mall, a distraction when they are not involved in helping the local constabulary solve crimes. Both are on and off their medications—not a good thing, but not a bad one either. Brandy and Vivian are murder mystery fans, making numerous references to characters created by Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner in their conversations.

While there is no mystery without a body, there is no antiques mystery without an antique or two or three. A previously unknown 50th Faberge egg, the prized possession of a Russian countess, stars in “Antiques Bizarre.” A locally made clock plays a prominent role in “Antiques Knock-Off.”

Max and Barbara write in a breezy, conversational style. Asides abound. Vivian is given her own chapter, sometimes more. The characters and conservation are down-to-earth, making the books easy and delightful reads.

[Author’s Aside #1: Every book is a stand alone. It is not necessary to read the other books in the series or to read them in order to become absorbed in whatever title with which you begin.]

Sheldon McArthur of North by Northwest Books in Lincoln City, Oregon introduced me to Sharon Fiffer and Jane Wheel, PPI (picker and private investigator). In “Backstage Stuff” (Minotaur Books, 2010), Jane is in the midst of a separation from her tenured professor, anthropologist husband Charley who spends most of his time at digs in South America. Son Nick summers with the father.

[Author’s Aside #2: All four heroines are either unmarried, divorced or in the process of getting divorced. These are “I’ll solve it myself” mysteries. Guys are relegated to the background, helpful on occasion but well advised to know their place.]

“Backstage Stuff”

Fiffer’s Wheel mysteries, with the exception of “Hollywood Stuff,” are set in Kankakee, Ill. The supporting cast includes Wheel’s parents Don and Nellie, owners of the EZ Way Inn, Tim Lowry, a local bon vivant who runs estates sales, Detective Oh and his wife Claire, a “refined” antiques dealer, and Jane’s dog Rita.

“Backstage Stuff” centers on the production of a play, the manuscript for which was discovered when preparing a large mansion for an estate sale. Mr. Bumbles, a multi-personality ventriloquist dummy, plays a prominent role. The original owner of the mansion, who wrote the play, used the house and its possessions as the setting and the props. There rests the tale.

Where Brandy plays at being an antiques and collectibles dealer, Jane has the passion. She loves what she picks. Alas, sometimes to a fault, thus preventing her from passing things up the ladder. She has the ability to spot the treasures across the room at a garage or estate sale but often loses them because of other objects that distract her along the way. Where Brandy is gregarious and risky taking, Jane is thoughtful and vulnerable—two very different people and two very different mystery series.

Jane Cleland’s Josie Prescott stands in stark contrast to Brandy and Jane. Josie, a fallout victim of the New York auction house scandals at the beginning of the 21st century, now operates an auction gallery, gallery shop, tag sale and appraisal business in Rocky Point, N.H. Knowing Josie—or simply being a client of hers—can be, and all too often is, hazardous to one’s health. Josie Prescott mysteries focus on an antique or antique group. “Deadly Threads” (Minotaur Books, 2011) is about the death of Riley Jordan, a vintage clothing collector who was teaching a class on “How to Build a Great Vintage Clothing Collection” at Prescott’s.

[Author’s Aside #3: Thanks to Josie Prescott, Jane Cleland and I have become friends. Jane has just finished her Master of Fine Arts in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University, something I accomplished in January 2010. It has been my pleasure to watch her growing sophistication as a writer.]

“Deadly Threads”

Cleland’s Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series provides insights into the antiques marketplace similar to the Lovejoy novels of Jonathan Gash (John Grant). Whereas Lovejoy’s scruples leave much to be desired, Prescott’s ethics are of the highest quality.

Josie is assisted at Prescott’s by a well developed set of secondary characters—Cara, Eric, Fred, Gretchen and Sasha. Josie’s neighbor Zoë and her boyfriend Chief Ellis Hunter and local reporter Wes are proven regulars. Josie’s boyfriend Ty, Rocky Point’s former sheriff, is not included in the list because he is conveniently out of town for 99 percent of the story.

Maine print dealer Lea Wait incorporates many of her own experiences into the character of Maggie Summers, an antique print dealer who has an affinity for stumbling upon dead bodies. Maggie went missing for a few years but has found new life thanks to John Daniel & Company’s Perseverance Press, which specializes in resurrecting out-of-print mystery series. “Shadows of a Down East Summer: An Antique Print Mystery” (Perseverance Press, 2011) has Maggie joining Will Brewer, her boyfriend, for a summer visit to his Aunt Nettie’s home in Waymouth, located on Maine’s Madoc River.

As in previous series titles, each chapter is introduced with a description of an antique print, the theme or subject of which plays a role in the chapter that follows. “Shadows of a Down East Summer” involves the discovery of a diary written by two young ladies who posed for Winslow Homer and its importance to several Waymouth residents. Fiction and reality mix when the story moves to Scarborough, Maine, a location where Winslow Homer was active as a painter.

“Shadows of a Down East Summer: An Antique Print Mystery”

“Something appealing, something appalling . . . Old situations, new complications, nothing portentous . . . something convulsive, something repulsive, something for everyone . . .” (the opening lines of “A Comedy Tonight” from the Boradway musical “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”)—I forewarned you that these books remind me of song lyrics. I adore these ladies—part-time dealer, collector-picker, gallery owner, and dealer. There is something for everyone.

Add “Antiques Knock-Off,” “Backstage Stuff,” “Deadly Threads” and “Shadows of a Down East Summer” to your summer reading list. Read the rest of the books in the series of those gals that intrigue you. If you are like me, you will read them all.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site..

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site..

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

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