Death in Store

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

DEATH IN STORE is a collection of eight mystery stories by a talented Australian writer. The settings of these stories vary from metropolitan Sydney, the scene of “Roses for Do-Hoppy” and “Flashpoint,” to a beach resort in “Death Warmed Up” and a remote rural area in “Rabbit Killer” and “Death in Ruby.” In all of the stories, however, it is an amateur detective, Verity “Birdie” Birdwood, who unmasks the murderers. Birdie is a strange little woman whose occupation is gathering background information for television programs but whose real passion is solving crimes — which, as she explains to her friend, Detective Sergeant Dan Toby, is for her a hobby, much like playing chess.

Birdie’s genius was evident early in her life. In the first story of DEATH IN STORE, “Forbidden Fruit,” Birdie tells Toby about a childhood experience, when she figured out who had planned a murder at a Christmas party. Interestingly, the final story of the collection, called “Death in Store,” also takes place at Christmas. In this case, it is the adult Birdie who is called on to help her policeman friend find the killer of a department store Santa Claus.

Rowe’s plots are unusual and her characters colorful. However, what is most impressive in DEATH IN STORE is the deductive process itself. In “Rabbit Killer,” for example, Birdie eliminates suspects by checking alibis, and then, even though the only person remaining is an unlikely murderer, she searches for a possible method until she has her answer. Although Jennifer Rowe writes of another continent and another century, the detective she has created and the intellectual process she describes are both in the classic tradition of Sherlock Holmes.