Monday, July 07, 2008

Mystery Series Post

After reading her entry in Candy Cane Murder, I decided to revisit Laura Levine. I cracked up during her novella in that collection, so though I barely remembered reading This Pen For Hire, her first Jaine Austen mystery (except that it was fine, but not great), I decided to give her another try. Since I read all six paperbacks (Killing Bridezilla is still in hardcover), I decided to review them together.

This Pen For Hire: This book introduces Jaine, a freelance writer who talks to her cat, Prozac, and laments her lack of willpower to slim down, and her best friend Kandi, who writes for a cartoon. Jaine takes on an assignment: write a letter from nerdy Howard that will convince sexy aerobics instructor Stacy to date him. To Jaine's surprise, the letter works, but the real surprise comes when Stacy is found beaten to death with her ThighMaster and Howard is arrested. Since the police are convinced of Howard's guilt, Jaine decides to investigate. My recollection of this as okay but not great was pretty accurate. There are funny moments, and the book is enjoyable fluff, but the plot isn't very strong. Jaine also bumbles around, suspecting everyone in turn until she realizes who the killer really is. Unfortunately, I was to learn that this is a formula Levine sticks with throughout the series.

Last Writes: Jaine snags a job writing for the sitcom Muffy 'N' Me, starring Quinn, a womanizer so universally disliked that it's no surprise he turns up murdered. This book brings in Jane's parents via their e-mails to Jaine. In my opinion, this was a great addition. Jaine's parents are just as crazy as she is, and her father is always having to take her mother on a cruise to Bermuda to make up for something outrageous he did. I was encouraged by a mention that Jaine is attending classes to become a PI, but this doesn't really go anywhere. Levine, a former comedy writer herself, makes the interaction between cast and crew on the sitcom set ring true, but again, Jaine bumbles around until she stumbles into the truth.

Killer Blonde: Jaine agrees to ghost write a book for Sue Ellen Kingsley, a truly horrid woman who makes Jaine take dictation perched on the toilet seat while Sue Ellen has a bubble bath. It's not that surprising when Sue Ellen is found electrocuted in her bath, but Jaine decides to investigate when Sue Ellen's lovely stepdaughter is suspected. A blonde was spotted the night of the murder, but there are too many blondes around. See above re: bumble and stumble.

Shoes To Die For: Jaine snags a job writing ads for Passions, a fashion boutique (yes, Jaine of the elastic-waist pants). Jaine discovers a hated Passions staff member stabbed with a stiletto heel, and embarks on an investigation. The more interesting plot here is the story of Jaine's parents--Jaine's dad has decided to audition for the retirement home's play, and hilarity ensues. More bumbling and stumbling onto the killer.

The PMS Murder: With Kandi busy with wedding plans, Jaine ends up a member of the PMS club with her new friend Pam. MaryBeth, the Little Miss Sunshine of the group dies from peanut oil in the guacamole (everyone knew she was allergic to peanuts) shortly after an affair she had with one of the members' husbands is revealed. Meanwhile, Jaine's dad is convinced that a new resident in the retirement community is on America's Most Wanted, and Prozac has to go on a diet.

Death by Pantyhose: Jaine is hired to write jokes for Dorcas, a feminist comic, and ends up investigating a murder when Vic, Dorcas's rival and ex-husband, is found strangled with a pair of pantyhose Dorcas uses in her act. Discussion of her relationship with Andrew sort of bogs down the plot, but a subplot about Jaine's dad obsessing over the loss of his "lucky shirt" makes up for it.

Overview: These are cute, funny reads, and Levine has a breezy style and delightful comic timing. The formula of Jaine going from suspecting one character to another (and another and another) is a bit tiresome after six books (even Jessica Fletcher mixed it up a little sometimes), but Jaine is likeable and the supporting cast a lot of fun. And those not reading all six back-to-back might not notice (or care about) the formulaic aspects of the mysteries. These are nice diversions and would be great on the beach this summer.


GBK Gwyneth said...

My shortcoming (among many others) -- I cannot get excited about mysteries. Maybe if some mysteriously appeared on my doorstep I'd read them, but I'm not out looking for them.

I am LOVING the Dave Barry Peter Books. In fact, I am trying to convince Camille to follow the model and write full length novels about Lily and James. That would be so cool.

Saw a dad pushing a stroller with a blonde girl walk by today; for one second I thought it might be L., but then realized that didn't make sense... we're headed to Chicago this weekend and look forward to seeing you when you get home.

allisonmariecat said...

I don't know that I would call it a shortcoming! I'm always a bit apologetic about my love of mysteries, which started with Saturday morning episodes of Scooby Doo and progressed to Nancy Drew books and watching Murder She Wrote with my mom. I think mystery series combine two elements of literature I really enjoy: a good puzzle, and characters who grow and change with each book. I just can't get enough of them!

I adore the Peter books! Glad you're enjoying them. Lily and James books would be wonderful.