‘The Look of Love’: murders at an upscale L.A. spa

Mary Jane Clark delivers another superior traditional mystery with “The Look of Love” (William Morrow), the second in the writer’s new series about Piper Donovan, an aspiring New York actress who moonlights as a cake decorator for upscale clients.

The first book “To Have and to Kill” took readers into the world of daytime drama when Piper was hired to do a cake for one of the performers on a just-canceled soap opera.

The debut novel was a very tasty blend of excellent mystery plotting and a behind-the-scenes view of TV production and the life of New York City actors (Clark worked for CBS News for many years before she turned to mystery writing and her daughter, Elizabeth, is an actress).

“The Look of Love” takes Piper to a deluxe spa in Los Angeles where the director, Jillian Abernathy, is about to get married on the grounds.

Just before Piper lands the gig, violence erupts in Jillian’s life when someone tosses acid in the face of her maid (the assailant mistook the domestic for his real target, Jillian).

Clark makes the spa setting and its clientele of beautiful people getting expensive treatments (and recovering from plastic surgery) a major part of the appeal of “The Look of Love.” Without ever getting preachy, the author shows us the downside of beauty-at-any-cost in subplots involving a young woman who had one nosejob too many (and is now afraid to show her ruined face to the world) and Jillian’s mom who died after a plastic surgery operation performed by her husband.

The novel has a large group of suspects with a good reason for wanting to get rid of Jillian. And, Piper is drawn into the mystery in a very believable manner (so far, Clark has done a great job of turning her heroine into a crime solver without making her look reckless).

Clark gives us an entertaining detour in the form of Piper’s audition for a TV commercial while she is waiting for the wedding at the spa (the book drops several hints that L.A. rather than New York might soon become the primary setting for the series). 

Although “The Look of Love” can be filled under the huge food-related mystery category — there are recipes in the back of the book — you don’t need to be interested in baking or decorating cakes to get caught up in this well-written and very satisfying concoction.