Morgan & Whitney Dish: Antiques Knock-Off By Barbara Allan

This week Whitney and I Dish about Barbara Allan’s new mystery, Antiques Knock-Off. This title is the latest in Allan's popular Trash'n'Treasures series but the first that Whitney or I ever picked up. Both being big fans of such comedy classics as Bringing Up Baby, we were intrigued by RT reviewer Pat Cooper's 4 1/2 star review that called this tale "laugh out loud" and "a screwball comedy cozy". 

Now for the Dish:

Morgan: First off, I feel like I have to mention how much is happening in this mystery. Brandy is an amateur sleuth who is seven months pregnant (as a surrogate for her best friend), off her Prozac prescription and dealing with her unruly mother (who Brandy's just learned is actually her grandmother). She is also dating a cop and trying to keep her antique shop running. 

Whitney: Don’t forget that Brandy also attempts, with little success, to keep her parentage - which would be a political scandal - under wraps, a secret that will soon be public knowledge if nasty neighbor Connie has anything to do with it. 

Morgan: Not necessarily the makings of a screwball comedy and the story wouldn't be in anyone else's hands but Barbara Allan (aka co-authors Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins) really ups the ante by creating two utterly unique characters with Vivian and Brandy. 

Whitney: The writing does have a very gender-neutral type of feeling when you are reading it, kind of a la Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Even though it is in first-person, both Brandy and her mother are quirky women (rather than women who are quirky) - you know what I mean?

Morgan: ‘Quirky’ is a bit of an understatement don’t you think? They are both downright crazy! 

Whitney: I was trying to be nice. After 226 pages of Brandy and Vivian’s first person adventure, I kind of expect the pair to hijack me into their next adventure. 

Morgan: Agreed. They have real presence that makes them seem to jump off the page and into your living room (and knowing them, they wouldn’t hesitate to get you entangled in their next scheme). Which was helped along by the first person narrative. Funny after our first Dish we both agreed that first-person was difficult to do; yet here we are with the second Dish facing the same issue.

Whitney: But I’d call this almost first-person plus. I mean, the Brandy and Vivian really, excuse my drama class language - break through the fourth wall. The two women consistently talk right to readers by using parentheticals and text formatting, like crossed out lines and bolded text, to make their points. 

Morgan: The protagonist addressing the reader reminded me a bit of Ferris Bueller. 

Whitney: Haha, I totally thought that Vivian seemed extremely Ferris-y. She certainly didn’t ever hold back. But that’s not to say that there was much holding back of anything in this cozy-style mystery.

Morgan: Is this a cozy? While there is no rock solid definition on the cozy, I think we can all agree they generally take place in a small town where an amateur sleuth investigates a not-explicitly violent crime. While Antiques Knock-Off ostensibly follows these not-so-hard-and-fast rules, the story still throws me because this strikes me as more of a parody than a cozy. Usually cozies have realistic settings and people and I think we can both agree that there is nothing remotely realistic about this story. Like it is so crazy that it couldn’t possibly happen, but at the same time it is so fun that you just kind of go with it anyway.

Whitney: I haven’t read many cozies, so I will bow to your expertise on this one. But I would say that “funny” is the best way to describe this story. Funny, outlandish, absurd. I think overall this book reminded me of being a little girl playing dress-up. Putting on a boa, a tiara and plastic high heels, the story has all of the trappings of a mystery, but I think its more of a comedy dressed up to be a mystery, rather than the other way around.

Morgan: I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you're right. This story could have been with the mystery entirely and still the comedic trappings would have come through. In fact you could have taken everything away - the mystery, the setting, even some of the characters and you still would have the Brandy with her spontaneity and energy. She is by far my favorite part of the story. She really tells it how it is - no internal censor at all. 

Whitney: Brandy’s honesty definitely allowed some of the more comic moments to shine in the tale. But overall I never really connected with her. I was appalled that while Brandy was waiting for her nemesis Connie to return home, Brandy not only went into Connie’s house but she made a sandwich there. Who makes a sandwich in the kitchen of someone they hate? Really, let’s pause to think about that for a moment. 

Morgan: Just because you or I wouldn’t do this doesn’t mean much in Brandy-land. This is definitely something she would do. She is the woman who jumps in and never stops to think things through. Just look at what she is doing for her friend, Tina. She just decided one day to be her surrogate and now she is just about ready to give birth! 

Whitney: Being a surrogate is a really big deal and a great thing to do for a friend. But Brandy’s pregnancy was something else that made me dislike her. First off, she totally talks about how she’s not going to waddle (but then totally does). But worse than that, Brandy doesn’t take very good care of herself while carrying her best friend’s child. Instead of taking it easy, up until the last moment Brandy is running around being stressed out by Vivian’s antics. 

Morgan: Okay, okay. So she could have done a MUCH better job taking care of herself when she is pregnant, however, you can’t really expect anything less than total chaos where ever she goes. Tina knew what she was getting into when she agreed to the whole thing. After all, Tina has known Brandy pretty much her whole life and has seen the craziness that ensues around Vivian. 

Whitney: That may be the case, but I ended up adoring Vivian and thinking Brandy was kind of — well she’s not a person I would want to spend time with. (Which, as you know, is my number one requirement for a heroine.)

Morgan: Oh, be nice. After all, Brandy is still dealing with the fact that her “mother” is actually her grandmother and her “sister” is her birth mom. 

Whitney: So she’s got a secret politician dad rather than a dead senior citizen dad. But her birth mother, teenage Peggy Sue, was in no position to be a mom. So, her grandma raised her and didn’t ever tell Brandy. I think it was a really smart choice on everybody’s part. I mean maybe they could have told Brandy sooner, like at age 18 or something - but I felt like it was not such a big issue. 

Morgan: Was it a good idea really? Her childhood was filled with such antics as being pulled out of school by Vivian who wanted to try her luck on Broadway (and only got as far as Newark Community Playhouse). And then there was the time that Vivian took Brandy on a joyride as they evaded the cops that had commitment papers. Maybe she would have been better off with Peggy Sue - she may have been a teenager, but she was already more responsible than Vivian. 

Whitney: But they do a good job of taking care of each other. By the time that we (the readers) come along, Brandy and Vivian and kind of co-parenting each other. I think their current situation makes both women really easy to relate to for anyone who’s ever thought that their parents were c-r-a-z-y.

Morgan: Crazy or not, Brandy and Vivian certainly handle the secret’s revelation calmly. 

“Are we...all right, dear? Have we changed, you and I?”

“I’m not sure either one of us is capable of much change, Mother. I’m always content with just not regressing.”

Whitney: The recently revealed secret certainly does make Vivian and Brandy the top two suspects when the police are trying to figure out who murdered Peggy Sue’s blackmailing frenemy, Connie Hays. So it seems like Brandy being raised by Vivian worked out well. Although I have to admit that I basically think that Vivian can do no wrong, she’s aaaah-mazing. 

Morgan: Except she gets herself locked up for a crime she didn’t commit. 

Whitney: She did that deliberately. And it was genius, using Wikipedia to purposely land in the slammer. Plus, while she’s in there she crusades for more nutritional food for the inmates! She literally is the old lady I want to be. A hair-raising force of nature — in the best of ways, of course.

Morgan: Maybe it would be fun to be her, but can you imagine trying to be around her? Brandy has to literally go on medication to handle Vivian’s wackiness. Neighbors, lawyers, town hall - everyone has a hard time dealing with Vivian. But I did notice that there is one person in the story who seems to skate out of Vivian watching detail - Peggy Sue. You know, the daughter that literally dropped a baby on Vivian’s lap 30 years ago because she didn’t want to deal with her. And when the story comes out, Peggy Sue is more concerned about how her old affair coming to light will affect her old flame then how it will affect her daughter! 

Whitney: But in Peggy Sue’s defense, she doesn’t want to rock the boat. She has a husband, a new daughter and the social standing she’s always wanted. And Brandy and Vivian are not particularly interested in telling the world — so why should Peggy Sue make a big fuss about it? 

Morgan: Come on, big fusses are these characters’ lifeblood. Everything is drama to these women. Whether it is a trip to an antiques restorer or wrongful arrest. Even their mental illnesses aren’t off the table. Although, I have to say it was refreshing to have people discussing their problems so openly. Brandy and Vivian both take medication for their illnesses and that’s just their life, they are not embarrassed by it. And while the story uses this for comedic effect, anything that takes away the social stigma of bi-polar and panic disorders gets my vote. 

Whitney: I definitely did like that neither woman held back when it came to the fact that they both use prescription medication. I really appreciated the passage where Vivian shares that she only takes her medication to make Brandy happy. While Vivian may be self-centered at times, she definitely cares about Brandy. And I agree in a very Raising Hope way, it was nice that neither woman was shy about the challenges she faced. 

Morgan: The whole town of Serenity is not shy dealing with Vivian and Brandy's "challenges". 

Whitney: I loved Serenity. Despite the two characters, the town seemed peaceful. Pristine, beautiful.

Morgan: If you discount the murders that seem to happen frequently. Poor Connie got a knife in the chest. 

Whitney: Well Connie was a blackmailer. Not that she had it coming — but she kind of had it coming …

Morgan: No spoilers here, but I have to admit that I was really stumped by whodunit. I was sure I had the right person picked (I am usually very good at this), but I fell for the red herring. My mother would be so disappointed. She was the one who taught me how to pick out the bad guy while we were watching crime shows like Murder She Wrote and Matlock (hint: the guest star is always the guilty one). 

Whitney: Dear TV Producers, please write great supporting roles for guest stars to keep us viewers on our toes! That said, I have to say that I picked out the right person but I thought that the authors did a really good job of putting in red herrings. 

Morgan: But in the end, the story wasn’t so much about Connie’s killer, as much as it was watching Vivian and Brandy stumble their way through the mystery.

***

Want to meet Vivian and Brandy yourself? You can get your own copy of Antiques Knock-Off in stores now. And if you want to follow along with our next dish, pick up a copy of Heather Grothaus' Never Kiss a Stranger while you are there and check back on Wednesday March 23rd to see what we have to say about it!

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