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Square in the Face

Square in the Face

5.0 3
by April Henry

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Once upon a time, Clair Montrose was a mousy employee in the Oregon State License Plate Division approving vanity plates. Now this part-time sleuth has an artist boyfriend in New York City and a quirky group of friends and family that keep her happy in Portland. But danger is never far away...


When her friend and former coworker, Lori, calls



Once upon a time, Clair Montrose was a mousy employee in the Oregon State License Plate Division approving vanity plates. Now this part-time sleuth has an artist boyfriend in New York City and a quirky group of friends and family that keep her happy in Portland. But danger is never far away...


When her friend and former coworker, Lori, calls with an urgent request, Claire can't say no. Lori's son is ill, and his only hope is a bone marrow transplant from a sibling. Long ago, Lori had a baby — a girl she gave up for adoption to a secretive agency. Now, she needs Clair to find her long-lost daughter.


Scouring the city, Claire has little to go on besides common sense and her own two feet. Using her wits, charm, and savvy sleuthing skills, she begins to dig up old secrets — secrets someone will kill to keep buried. Now, it's not just a young boy's life hanging in the balance, but Clair's as well.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Claire Montrose, formerly with Oregon's specialty license plate department (Circles of Confusion), tries to locate the daughter her best friend had given up for adoption but now needs for a possible bone-marrow transplant. Claire investigates an expensive-but-shady adoption clinic, worries over the disappearance of a pregnant informant, conducts surveillance on four likely adoptive families with her concentration camp survivor friend, Charlotte, and somehow maintains a cross-country romance with New York City museum curator Dante. Agreeable prose, a steadily engaging plot, and a few vanity plate puzzlers thrown in for good measure make this a recommended purchase. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
— Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac Public Library , Kingston, Ontario

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
A Claire Montrose Mystery Series
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Standing in front of the kitchen sink in Dante's co-op, Claire slid another plate into the wooden dish rack. The view from his window, eight stories above Fourth Avenue, was still something she had a hard time believing. If she pressed her cheek against the cold pane, she could even see a slice of the Empire State Building.

"I have a feeling we're not in Portland anymore, Toto," she murmured to herself. Even without the Empire State Building, a glance across the street would be enough to let her know she wasn't in Oregon. Buildings here were squeezed up against one another, without even an alleyway for breathing room. Directly across the street, two brick buildings bracketed an older one of stone, complete with carved gargoyles on the corners. Behind each window was another life she could scarcely imagine. Actors, editors, students, and dancers. Old women who could talk for hours about seventy years before, when the streets bustled with fat Checker cabs and people had streamed into the Horn and Hardart Automat on the corner. Palm readers, chanteuses and cellists, writers of advertising catchphrases. People from every country in the world, because this was New York City, after all. And Claire was just one more person among seven million.

In a way she was glad that she was just visiting. New York demanded the persona she had perfected during years of riding the bus in Portland (and happily discarded as soon as she got a car). No smiling, no chance eye contact, no talking to yourself, no making yourself stand out from the herd. It was the only way to stay safe from the wolves. You walked fast and didn't let your eyes catch onanything.

Behind her, the CD player switched to another of the discs Dante had loaded before he went to a meeting at the Met, a meeting that was unavoidable even if he was officially on vacation. When he came back, they were going to a photography exhibit at a gallery down

town. To Claire, everything in New York felt like what Portlanders called downtown, i.e., tall office buildings and crowded sidewalks, but to Dante the city lay neatly divided into downtown, midtown, and uptown. Afterward they were going out to dinner with some of his old friends. The idea filled Claire with a barely suppressed nervousness that went far beyond wondering which fork she should use. Every time she met an old friend of Dante's she would wonder again what Dante saw in her. Their conversations were filled with references she barely caught. Like Alice in Wonderland, in New York Claire sometimes felt as if she had to run in place just to keep up. She told herself that dinner would go fine, but the part of her that still thought in the language of license plates added a sarcastic SHRSHR.

As her mind moved from thought to thought, her hips began to move, too, echoing the beat of the music, a hard-to-pin-down mix of folk, Celtic, and Middle Eastern sounds. Claire walked over to the empty CD cases and flipped through them until she figured out which one it was. Loreena McKennitt. The singer's long red curls looked something the way Claire's hair used to, until she had been forced to cut it all off last fall and dye it black to keep herself from being so easily recognizable.

Susie, Claire's hairdresser sister, had done what she could to restore her. She had dyed Claire's hair back to its original color, and the match was so close that the roots of the new growth couldn't even be seen. But Susie couldn't do anything about the length, which now brushed Claire's shoulders instead of the middle of her back. Claire missed the familiar weight of it. Sometimes, after she put on her coat, her hands would automatically reach back to pull her hair free from the collar and meet only air.

The next song was a ululating melody, a Middle Eastern sound complete with bells and drums. She turned the music up a tick and began to walk back to the sink. Without conscious thought, Claire's body found the pattern of the camelwalk. The memories of the dance were steeped in her bones, laid down in eighth grade when she had taken a five-dollar beginning belly-dance class from Minor's Department of Parks and Rec.

The teacher had not only taught them how to dance, but how to dress the part. After stops at FabricLand and Newberry's, Claire had made her own belly-dancing outfit. The skirt was sheer nylon, layers and layers of black with a final hidden underskirt of scarlet. She sewed silver bells on a heavily padded black bra and then in class she was taught the secret of making them jingle. Surrounded by housewives and secretaries, Claire learned how to snake her arms and shake her hips and even how to hold her curved arms overhead, back of one hand pressed to the back of another, while she slid her head from side to side. For the first time in her life, Claire began to feel that she might be graceful and coordinated.

Although she was by far the youngest person in the class, for once she didn't mind feeling different. The other women fussed over her as if she were exotic and special. No one teased her for being too skinny or too tall. Instead, they touched her curls, marveled at her pale skin, exclaimed over her flexibility. When the talk turned to men and babies and blood, as it always seemed to do, they hadn't shooed her away, but let her listen.

The dishes forgotten, Claire thought about all this as she camelwalked across the faded scarlet of Dante's Oriental rug. The camelwalk was a dance that required coordination.

Meet the Author

April Henry lives with her husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, where she works in corporate communications. Heart-Shaped Box is her third Claire Montrose mystery, after Circles of Confusion, which was nominated for the Agatha and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel, and Sqaure in the Face.

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Square in the Face 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Claire Montrose is a very appealing character. I recommend you read Circles of Confusion first -- it's great. This story is more serious than Circles, but moves well and Claire is still feisty and wonderful. Good work April.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved Circles of Confusion, Ms. Henry's first novel featuring Claire Montrose, and I loved Square in the Face every bit as much. This book is more serious and heartfelt in its themes than Circles and a little less romantic. The mystery is good, the suspense builds nicely, and I challenge you to find a more enjoyable sleuth than Claire. Anyone who is a fan of Sue Grafton will love this series. I can't wait for the next installment.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Claire was once a drone working in the Oregon Specialty License Plate Department. Her job was to approve vanity plates. When she received a special inheritance (see CIRCLE OF CONFUSION), she quit. Now, Claire only does things that interest her. At the moment, she searches for the daughter of a friend, Lori who gave away her child through the private adoption services of the infamous Bradford Clinic.

Lori¿s son suffers from leukemia and will probably need a bone marrow transplant. Lori, her husband, and their other son prove unsuitable matches. Claire quickly learns that Dr. Bradford wants to make money from his questionable placement service. Helping people in trouble is not important to the avarice healer. Claire checks into the clinic as a patient and finds a ledger that includes a page with the information Lori needs. Unfortunately there are many potential entries that could prove to be Lori¿s daughter. As the clock ticks, Claire desperately continues her inquiries to save a dying boy.

Claire goes way beyond what a person can expect of a friend. She proves just how big her heart really is by taking by taking risks that most people would refuse regardless of the bond. Thus, Claire makes the novel and the series with her deeply caring nature. April Henry surrounds her heroine with a heart-wrenching tale of a family in crisis inside the mystery. SQUARE IN THE FACE will appeal to amateur sleuth fans as well as those readers who enjoy a family drama. Ms. Henry has written a triumphant novel that will gain her much esteem from readers who relish the works of such notables like Adler and Plain.

Harriet Klausner