Carol Higgins Clark
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Buy *Popped* online

Popped: A Regan Reilly Mystery

Carol Higgins Clark
368 pages
January 2006
rated 1 of 5 possible stars

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When an old school friend, Danny Madley, urgently calls her for help, L.A.-based private investigator Regan Reilly can’t refuse him. She flies to Las Vegas, hoping to have the case wrapped up before the much-anticipated weekend reunion with her New York boyfriend, Jack.

Once in Vegas, Regan finds that the eccentric millionaire owner of the Balloon TV Channel, Roscoe Parker, is sponsoring a contest between two sets of people – one involved in producing a sitcom and the other (Danny’s group) creating a reality show about married couples with problems. Both teams are forced by the conditions of the contest to feature hot air ballooning (Roscoe’s pet business); whichever group wins the contest (as decided by Roscoe) gets a coveted permanent slot on the Balloon Channel.

But accidents which may or may not be pranks keep happening on the sets, leading Danny to fear that someone (most likely the sitcom people) is out to sabotage him. Regan isn’t as convinced. As time goes by and Regan observes the various ways in which Roscoe keeps hampering his own two teams, she begins to get suspicious, but is still unable to find any solid evidence of wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

Is greed the motivating factor here, or is it quite something else? For some, this is their last chance at the limelight, and they’re ready to do anything to win. In such crazy circumstances, is it any wonder that danger reigns supreme? Interfering parents, malicious websites, saboteur(s) at work, disappearing mail, jackpot wins, ex-girlfriends and hot air balloons, all set loose on Las Vegas, provide one crazy mystery for Regan to solve.

This latest Regan Reilly mystery could have been more interesting, but in its current fluffy state is a disappointing dud. The author has crammed the latest craze for reality-based TV shows, sitcoms and advice-giving "agony" aunts into Popped. While none of these are new or below standard, the premise for the shows -- hot-air ballooning -- is "full of hot air." A kooky millionaire who loves creating mischief in the name of competitiveness, some very clichéd characterizations and a mystery which is obvious from the beginning make finishing this novel a chore even for fans. What’s more deplorable is that while Regan tries her level-best (which never rises above the ineffective) to find the truth behind it all, in the end she discovers nothing, the mystery comes to a natural conclusion and she still ends up being paid a lot of money. The only items of fresh appeal in Popped are the interesting tidbits of information about the history of hot-air ballooning -- how it all began and how it was used -- and how popular it’s become today in recreational and commercial ways.

© 2003 by Rashmi Srinivas for Curled Up With a Good Book

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