Kiss of Death is the fourth and final book in Lauren Henderson's Scarlett Wakefield series (Book 1 is Kiss Me, Kill Me). Although Henderson does a nice job of wrapping up the various mysteries introduced in the other books, I am sorry to see this series end. The Scarlett Wakefield books stand out for me as examples of realistic young adult mysteries. The books may be set against an atmosphere of privilege, but there are no supernatural elements. There are murders, lies, and family secrets.
Scarlett is refreshingly down-to-earth. She has realistic insecurities, but her background as a gymnast has left her strong and physically confident. That's one of the things I like best about these books. Scarlett and her best friend Taylor aren't afraid to climb a mountain, or walk across a ledge to a fire escape. They don't (usually) need boys to rescue them. Their strength doesn't come from anything magical - it comes from hard work. A nice contrast to many of the other books out there.
Kiss of Death finds Scarlett and Taylor on a school trip to Edinburgh. There, they encounter Callum McAndrew, identical twin to Dan McAndrew (who died after kissing Scarlett in the first book). Scarlett met (and kissed) Callum in Book 2, Kisses and Lies). Scarlett is now torn between a flirtation with Callum and her love for her absent boyfriend, Jase (who took off after dark family revelations in Book 3, Kiss in the Dark). But these romantic entanglements are minor problems compared to Scarlett's newest worry -- someone is trying to kill her.
I think that Henderson does a nice job of recapping the relevant events of the previous books without making it feel repetitive for readers. She also leaves plot points not needed for Book 4 unspoken, so that one could go back after this one and read the other books. I would still strongly recommend starting with the first book in the series.
Kiss of Death is a compelling read - I stayed up late to read it two nights in a row (something that I rarely do these days). There is plenty of action and intrigue (Who is the shadowy figure that seems to be following Scarlett? What is Taylor hiding? Who could hate Scarlett enough to kill her?). There is also a nice mix of interpersonal dynamics -- both friendships and romances are explored. Scarlett comes face-to-face with the two best friends who she lost in Book 1 (though her own actions). And she continues her tribulations with mean girls Plum and Nadia and venomous Aunt Gwen.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Kiss of Death:
"It's an old folk song I recognize. But I've never heard it sound like this before. The violin makes it seem like an enchantment, as if the melody is casting a spell to throw a net over your heart and drag you away, as if the fiddler were the Pied Piper of Hamelin." (Page 11)
"One moment I'm stumbling forward, in total shock at having been pushed so savagely; the next, I'm flying through the air headfirst, down a stairwell three stories high, with so much smoke in my lungs that I can't even scream." (Page 47)
"I never wanted to be a princess," Taylor says flatly. "I wanted to be SpongeBob SquarePants." She considers for a moment. "Or Pippi Longstocking," she adds. "She was cool."
"I'm glad you identified with one girl," I say, not entirely sure whether Taylor's joking about SpongeBob. For an American, she has a really dry sense of humor." (Page 63)
"Being in a crowed room, everyone listening to the music, their attention completely focused on the boys onstage, is more of a relief to my sore heart than I could possibly have imagined. I'm in company, but no one's talking to me. No one wants anything from me. I can just be myself, let my thoughts wander, be soothed by the music, happily anonymous." (Page 164)
I found Kiss of Death to be an entertaining and satisfying conclusion to the Scarlett Wakefield series. Recommended for mystery fans of all ages, 13 and up. Also recommended for anyone looking for books with strong female characters. This is a series that all libraries should have in their YA collections.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).