Cover image for Square in the face
Square in the face
Henry, April.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., [2000]

Physical Description:
258 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



Square in the Face is the second book in April Hnery's delightfully entertaining, acclaimed mystery series in which danger often takes an unexpected shape.


Claire Montrose can't believe her good luck. Once upon a time, she was a mousy employee in the Oregon State License Plate Devision with the odd job of deciding which vanity plate applications passed the good-taste test. Now she has a charming artist boyfriend in New York City and a quirky group of friends and family that keeps her happily settled in Portland. But when a former coworker and friend urgently needs her help, Claire agrees to do a little sleuthing.


Years ago, Lori gave up her child to a secretive adoption agency. Now Lori's young son is ill, and the doctors say his only hope is a bone marrow transplant from a sibling. Lori talks Claire into finding her long-lost daughter. Unfortunately, as Claire scours the city for the information that could save the boy's life, she has little to go on besides her common sense and her own two feet.


The closer Claire gets to the truth, the more twisted and perilous the search becomes. Using her wits, charm, and savvy sleuthing skills, she digs up old secrets--but someone is willing to kill to keep them buried. Meanwhile, Claire has a problem closer to home: a mother addicted to television shopping channels.


April Henry's Square in the Face is a captivating, crime-solving adventure starring the inimitable Claire Montrose, a woman with the deductive powers and scrappy determination to discover the hidden meaning of any license plate and to rescue a friend from a desperate fate.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In her first Claire Montrose mystery, Henry's hook was Claire's job. She worked for the state of Oregon, approving or denying personalized plates. In this sequel, Claire and the state have parted company, but Henry continues to end chapters with personalized plates that vaguely tie into the plot (D8NNE1; i.e., Date Anyone). Here, Claire's friend Laurie asks her to track down a child she gave up for adoption, hoping the girl's bone marrow will help her leukemia-ravaged son. Posing as a pregnant woman, Claire infiltrates a shady adoption clinic. Helping her is a handsome doctor who just might be competition for Claire's absentee boyfriend. Only mildly suspenseful, the book's strength is Claire, its likable protagonist. And although it doesn't make much sense for Henry to continue using the license device, punsters will enjoy deciphering the more difficult plates. A glossary in the back gives the answers, though some are painfully obvious (2EZ4MNU). --Jenny McLarin

Publisher's Weekly Review

Henry's follow-up to last year's Circles of Confusion finds the clever, feisty Claire Montrose helping a friend, Lori Estrada, whose three-year-old son, Zach, has leukemia. Before Lori married, she gave birth to a daughter she then gave up for adoption. Lori asks Claire to find the girl, who may be the only genetic match for a bone-marrow transplant to save Zach. So Claire returns from a visit to New York and her lover, Dante, a curator at the Met, and fakes a pregnancy to enter the Bradford Clinic, where Lori's daughter was born. There, the mysterious Dr. Bradford provides financial and medical assistance to pregnant women who will relinquish their babies for private adoption. Claire locates Lori's records and four possible adoptive couples. Eventually she and her housemate, Charlie, an 80-year-old WWII refugee, hone the list to one--reclusive movie stars Amanda and Kurt Price. Then Claire is threatened. Is she proving dangerous to Bradford Clinic operations? Or is the problem her invasion of the Prices' privacy? She finally convinces the Prices to cooperate, but tests show that their daughter isn't Zach's sister. Undaunted, Claire returns to the clinic. Henry writes an absorbing and at times moving mystery with a lively heroine who is never really in danger and venal villains who are easily dispatched. Claire's bicoastal romance with Dante still must be resolved, but that's for another book. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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 on anything. 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 downtown. 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. Excerpted from Square in the Face by April Henry. Copyright © 2000 by April Henry. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.