"The Skirt Man"
(Reviewed by Debbie Lee Wesselmann AUG 26, 2006)
In the small town of Killdeer, New York, a town celebration is interrupted by the news that a local hermit, nicknamed the Skirt Man for the skirts he insists on wearing, has been found burned to death in his living room. While local television celebrity Creedmore Snowdon prefers to look at the death as a case of spontaneous combustion, state trooper Sebastian and his brother-in-law Billy, who is a New York fire marshal, regard it as a homicide. Told through the words of Sebastian's wife Annie, a local reporter and general busybody, their investigation and the details of the Killdeer inhabitants who knew the Skirt Man are exposed step by step until the truth emerges. The result is a portrait of a town and the strange man who lived at its fringes. As Annie says in the opening pages, "The journalist in me wants to start at the beginning of all these events and proceed logically to the end. But the involved citizen in me who knew, liked, loved, or loathed so many of the participants can't figure out where the beginning is. So, I'll just close my eyes, take a deep breath, trying to pin the tail somewhere on this donkey, and hope that I don't stab myself in the eye."
As a narrator, Annie projects the image of a homespun, not-very-clever woman. Her interests seem rooted in gossip and never beyond her small sphere. If anything defines her, it is her sugary doting on her ballerina daughter. This perspective causes a problem for the narrative since she is more passive than dynamic. To put it bluntly, Annie is a boring narrator. She picks up pieces of gossip mostly through the interrogation techniques of her manicurist, Pam, and through the antics and observations of the slapstick duo of stepbrothers Mo and Sonny Dillenbeck. Author Reuben makes some serious missteps: the gratuitous scene of daughter Merry going to a local drug-fest with Sonny and Mo comes across as filler, and the unprofessionalism exhibited by Sebastian and Billy as they allow Annie to tag along compromises their respectability as characters. The result is a frothy, thin mystery that carries the reader's interest mostly because it demands so little from the imagination. The final revelation of the killer is ill-prepared for, although the much fuller picture gained of the Skirt Man is partially worth the wait. If only Reuben had dug deeper into her issues, The Skirt Man could have been a more satisfying cozy mystery.
Given what Reuben reveals at the end about the title character, the author might have succeeded at telling this story if she had chosen a more dynamic point-of-view and peopled her pages with characters who last beyond their initial descriptions. Reuben's ideas are interesting, even if she does not fully develop them.
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Julian Solo (1988)
- Origin & Cause (1994)
- Spent Matches (1996)
- Tabula Rose (August 2005) *
- The Skirt Man (June 2006) *
* Killdeer, New York
Tilly Quilter Series:
- Weeping (2004)
- Come Home, Love, Dad ( 2000)
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- Official website for Shelly Reuben
- Curled up interview with Shelly Reuben
- San Diego Tribune review of Tabula Rosa
- Huntington News review of The Skirt Man
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About the Author:
Shelly Reuben is a licensed licensed private detective and a certified fire investigator who has been investigating fires and arson for more than twenty years. She lives in New York.