Carla Caruso admits she has an obsession with amateur sleuths.

I think I’m a little obsessed … with amateur sleuths! It all started with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series and the TV show, Murder, She Wrote, and it’s only continued on from there.

There’s just something about the idea of stumbling upon a mystery in real-life and actually solving it, despite the authorities having been baffled, that holds appeal.

Carla Caruso - author pic

When I was younger, I remember forming ‘secret’ clubs with my schoolmates, trying to solve mysteries at lunchtime (along the lines of ‘what happened to the missing canteen lunch money?’). And, oh, how I treasured that ‘private eye’ show-bag I got from the Royal Show one year, complete with a fake-nose-and-glasses disguise and a faux walkie-talkie. (Now kids have actual mobile phones, wow!). Little wonder I’d one day write a romantic comedy mystery series, revolving around – you guessed it – an amateur sleuth.

A Pretty Mess: An Astonvale Novel # 1 (Harper Impulse) is the first in my Astonvale series, set in the fictional well-heeled suburb of Astonvale, known for its infinity-edge pools and Wimbledon-worthy tennis courts.

The series follows a neat-freak professional organiser – Celeste Pretty – who gets caught up in messy mysteries with a sexy builder (Lenny Muscat). For those not in the know, professional organisers de-clutter people’s homes and offices for a living, so as you can imagine, get to pore through a lot of personal – and often revealing – items. Celeste’s first client is a famed health and fitness guru, who isn’t quite all she seems despite her squeaky-clean image…

But back to my obsession with amateur sleuths! My older sister also passed on a few Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books, but what I really got hooked on in my younger days was Sarah Strohmeyer’s Bubbles Yablonsky series (when everyone else was reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books). Bubbles was a beautician-cum-rookie-reporter who, according to Wikipedia, was “a kind of hybrid between Marilyn Monroe and Columbo”. The cast of characters included Bubbles’ ex, Dan the Man, her black-lipstick-wearing teenage daughter, Jane, photojournalist and love interest Steve Stiletto, and gun-toting septuagenarian Genevieve. Yup, bubbles of screwball-mystery fun!

Lately, there have also been quite a few amateur sleuth-style TV shows I’ve loved, including Mr & Mrs Murder — involving a crime-scene-cleaning couple who get tangled up in investigations – and Devious Maids, in which a Latina maid goes undercover, seeking justice for her son.

So … think amateur sleuths don’t exist in real-life? I’ve got two words for you! Erin Brockovich. The unemployed single mum became a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brought down a power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply. It could happen to you. Get sleuthing!


A Pretty Mess by Carla CarusoSometimes, to come clean, you’ve got to get your hands dirty …

Celeste Pretty, a self-confessed neat freak, has found the job she was born to do: a professional organiser, de-cluttering people’s homes and workplaces. Her new business gets off to a cracking start when she lands her first client, health and fitness guru Natalia Samphire, in the well-heeled suburb of Astonvale. But things get messy at Natalia’s mansion when Celeste finds a blackmail note and other mysterious items. And then there’s Lenny Muscat, the sexy builder renovating the place, whose constant presence is muddling Celeste’s usually organised brain. When things get decidedly suspicious at the mansion, she and Lenny have to team up to investigate. But will Celeste emerge with her heart and professional reputation unscathed? This is the first in the Astonvale series.

Carla Caruso was born in Adelaide, Australia, and only ‘escaped’ for three years to work as a magazine journalist and stylist in Sydney. Previously, she was a gossip columnist and fashion editor at Adelaide’s daily newspaper, The Advertiser. She has since freelanced for titles including Woman’s Day and Shop Til You Drop. These days, she plays mum to twin boys Alessio and Sebastian with hubby James. A Pretty Mess is her fifth novel.

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