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The Wrong Stuff by Sharon Fiffer


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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My first taste of Sharon Fiffer’s writing is her new book, The Wrong Stuff. the latest mystery in her Jane Wheel series. Wheel is an unfocused antique picker and her cluttered and distracted life can become an irritant for those of us who are somewhat more organized or focused. A good mystery presents clues with care, and leaves few, if any, holes in the story. Fiffer leaves more holes, and her clues are clumsy, but her writing is usually fine enough to keep readers turning pages. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 3 (pp. 33-38):

How many pairs of shoes do you own? Don’t check yet. Got the number? Now go to your closet and count. Twice as many? Three times as many? Why do you own what you can't even remember you have?

—BELINDA ST. GBRMAIN, 0verstuffed


"A beautiful fake," said Claire, “but a fake nonetheless."

Jane looked back and forth from Claire’s eyes to the drawer pulls and the sunflower carvings and shook her head.

"I'd bet my . . . ,"Jane began to say.

Claire stopped her. "Don't. You’d lose it." She came back around the front of the chest and pulled out the drawer. "You can see where they aged the wood, but it's a little too even, too neat. Dovetails are all large and too perfect. Look how it fits,"

Claire slid the drawer back in place,

"Perfect, isn't it?" asked Jane,

"Yes," Claire said. "It shouldn't be though. A drawer from an authentic piece wouldn't go all the way in, wouldn't be such a perfect fit. There would be more ventilation space left at the back. There are other clues, too. . . ."

Bruce Oh, who had quietly brought in a tray with coffee, set it down and motioned for Jane to come over and sit.

"Claire rarely makes mistakes," he said.

"But when I do . . . ," Claire said, letting the thought trail.

"If Mrs. Wheel is going to help . . . ," said Oh.

Lost in the land of ellipses, thought Jane. Somebody better finish a sentence around here,

"What is it you think I can . . . ?"Jane began to ask.

Claire cleared her throat and straightened herself to her full six plus feet. Jane had always mistrusted people that tall. The truth was, and she knew it, she was jealous. Jane worried that the tall were able to see everything she, as the smaller than average, missed; dust on top of the refrigerator, cobwebs on the ceiling, the frailties of the human heart. Right now, even though Claire Oh was clearly in distress, Jane was certain she would never lose her keys, mismatch her socks, or mislay a permission slip.

"I called my helper, Stanley, to bring the truck over, and we loaded up the chest together. I kept it here, at home, in the garage. Horace came to see it. He agreed with me that it was a Westman—or the closest thing we were ever going to find. Wrote me a check for a deposit, and I told him I'd drive it up to Campbell and LaSalle myself for the cleaning and restoration."

Claire looked Jane over from top to bottom. "Do you know about Campbell and LaSalle?" she asked.

Jane was surprised at how thoroughly she resented Claire Oh’s question. Yes, she was a picker not a dealer, and yes, she liked the old and worn more than the old and precious, and yes, she was wearing a boxy, vintage wool jacket over a pair of skinny jeans instead of the slim, gray Armani skirt and silk blouse that Claire was wearing. Yes, even after some jail time, Claire Oh had the dealer look, the I-know-the-value-of-everything-you’ve-ever-touched look, and yes, she had on Manolo Blahnik heels, too, but did that give her the right to assume Jane would not know that Campbell and LaSalle were the premiere restorers/refinishers/rebuilders in the country? Just because the jewelry Jane was sporting was a Bakelite pin with dangling butterscotch cherries instead of the forties Carrier diamond watch that Claire wore on her left wrist? Jane reminded herself that she really liked Bruce Oh, and he had asked her to come and talk to Claire,

"Who is Horace?" Jane asked,

"Horace Cutlers a dealer in fine European antiques. This wasn't his cup of tea, but he had a buyer. Everyone was going to make something on this," Claire said, patting the surface of the chest.

Everyone but the owner, Jane thought, but didn't say anything out loud. After all, would she refuse if someone running an estate sale gave her something? Just asked her to haul it away? No. But what if she thought the something was something? Would she tell?

"I checked it in with one of the carpenters at Campbell and LaSalle and told him I wanted the minimum amount of work done. Clean it up, put it back together, save the age, you know, the patina," Claire said.

Jane nodded. She and her pal, Tim, when out of earshot and sight of Charley and Nick, played a pretend game. Tim would link his arm though Jane's at a flea market, and they would discuss their imaginary daughter, little Patina. "Would Patina like a little dressing table for her room?" "ls Patina still collecting poodles?"


Tim always said that as soon as he met the right man, they'd get themselves a poodle and name it Patinajust to satisfy all of his Kankakee flower shop customers who weren't happy having a gay florist unless he made them laugh and sang them show tunes. Tim often used Jane, not as his beard to pretend he was straight, but rather as his foil for outragious behavior. Jane was stuck playing Cher to his Elton.

"They want me drooling over Liza and nibbling quiche," Tim had said the last time Jane was in the store. "If they saw me with you, eating a pizza, drinking a beer, and not ratcheting my voice up to an octave above Q for queen, they'd go back to buying their flowers at the Jewel"

"I drove up to Michigan and picked up the chest myself" Claire said. "I just glanced at it, and it looked gorgeous. I delivered it to Horace’s gallery. His assistant signed for it. I came home and changed for the Hospital Auxiliary antique show at the Community House and when I got there, Horace was already waiting for me at my designated space, screaming at my assistant that the chest delivered to him was a fake and he wanted his deposit back immediately. He said he had already sent it back to the house" Claire continued rubbing the wood as she talked. "He went even crazier when he saw me. Called me lots of names. Screamed at everyone passing by that I was a liar and a cheat."

Bruce Oh, silent for so long, went over to his wife and patted her hand, which, Jane realized, was moving a bit obsessively over the carving. He led her over to the couch, and when she had sat. Oh took up the story.

"Mrs. Wheel, you’ve been at shows like that. The first night is a benefit. Well-dressed people, drinking champagne, an elegant evening. Mr. Cutlers screaming cut through the crowd like a knife."

"What happened?" asked Jane.

"Security came and escorted him out," said Claire. "Here was this elegant little man, dressed in an impeccable suit, yelling like a crazy person. Said his credibility with his customer was ruined. Shouted that he'd get even. He actually said he'd"—Claire stopped for just a second, swallowed, and continued—"he said he'd kill me for this."

"My god, what did you say?"

"Not if I kill you first." Claire shook her head. "I was being flippant, of course. I'm regretting the bravado now.

"I returned a few cases to my booth at the antique mall that night like I always do so they could be locked in the safe I keep there, just jewelry and a few smalls. The back door was locked. I let myself in and there was a light on near my booth. Horace was there. Dead on the Kilim rug, right in front of the Pembroke table.

"How did you know he was dead?"

"The lack of breathing, the pool of blood, the seven-inch blade with the carved bone handle sticking out of his chest," Claire said, shrugging. "The dagger was a tip-off of sorts."

Oh again laid his hand on his wife's.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I've had a very bad day."

"Its okay," said Jane, thinking she had been right about tall people. They were supercilious and got away with it because they could see farther than the average joe—or jane.

"But what about the timing of all this? How long had he been dead? Did you call the police right away?"

"The police walked in right after me. The alarm had been tripped. I turned it off before I came in, but it had rung at the police station because of a front window being tampered with," Claire said/it was a scene from a television program. I was kneeling over the body of a man that at least thirty well-dressed, reliable witnesses had heard me say I'd kill"

"Network," Jane said, looking past Claire, locking eyes with Bruce Oh,

Oh looked at her blankly.

"Last scene before the first commercial break," Jane said. "Network television program." She shook her head. "Not even HBO"


Fiffer’s writing keeps readers engaged, but holes in the plot and clumsy clues, combined with Jane Wheel’s distractability, can infuriate mystery lovers who decide to read The Wrong Stuff.

Steve Hopkins, January 22, 2004


ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the February 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Wrong Stuff.htm


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