THE MAKEOVER MURDERS reads like a romance novel at its beginning, but by the end author Jennifer Rowe has proved why she has been called the Australian Agatha Christie. The book has all of Christie’s trademarks, including false pasts, anonymous threatening letters, red herrings, a flood that eventually leaves the cast cut off from help, opportunities for cast members to separate themselves from the group to become killers or victims, a skilled amateur detective, and murder motives for all cast members except her and the two police officers who are called in to investigate.
The opening chapter introduces the staff of Deepdene, a beauty resort run and owned by former model Margot Bell and hair stylist Alistair Swanson. Rowe quickly reveals the relationships between staff members, including Bell’s affair with William, her secretary, whom she threw over for Conrad, the new masseur. That chapter also introduces the three guests. Verity Birdwood, who is doing research on Deepdene for Australian television, arrives in the second chapter, after staff and other guests have met. She is thus unaware of some of the relationships and background stories.
Several chapters develop the tension of the story. William reveals that Laurel Moon, the woman who years ago murdered his mother and five others, has been released from a mental health facility and has planning to come to Deepdene. Soon thereafter, Margot Bell is murdered in the same style used by Laurel Moon. Conveniently, no one can recall seeing a picture of Moon—William himself was prevented from seeing a picture of the killer. Birdwood does not mention Moon when she calls for assistance from Detective Sergeant Dan Toby, so he and an assistant arrive at the scene also unable to tell which of the guests or staff might be Moon. A flood immediately cuts the group off from outside help. As the investigation unwinds, characters reveal further secrets and a suspect is identified. Readers are presented with enough clues to solve the crimes, although there are a few tricks left until the end, when Birdwood assembles everyone to reveal the involved logic by which she has discovered the murderer’s identity.