"Half-Price Homicide" by Elaine Viets: Book Review

"Half-Price Homicide" by Elaine Viets
Obsidian, 261 pp., $22.95
Reviewed by David Marshall James

Elaine Viets's "Dead-End Job" mysteries have evolved into a truly fun-- and funny-- series built around "fugitive" Helen Hawthorne's attempts to remain under the radar from her slimeball ex-husband, who took her for a ride in their divorce, two years past in fictional time.

In this ninth series entry, the reader learns how Helen's scum of an ex came out so swimmingly in the settlement, even though Helen was the high-powered breadwinner of the couple and he the stay-at-home philanderer whom she discovered in flagrante delicto on one of their patio lounge chairs.

Indeed, Helen's life is shaking up faster than Cosmos on Saturday night at a South Beach bar.

Without revealing the gory details, suffice it to say she's headed back to her hometown of St. Louis from her refuge of Fort Lauderdale to settle some important family business, but not before she's tangled up in another murder at her latest cash-under-the-table place of employment.

This time around, Helen is assisting the owner of a high-end secondhand consignment shop when one of the emporium's best suppliers rings up her final sale in a dressing room.

Once again, Helen must face nemesis Det. Richard McNally, who is naturally becoming increasingly suspicious of Helen, who seems to be forever turning up at murder scenes-- a penchant of mystery-novel protagonists.

However, Helen's stalwart squeeze, Phil the P.I., never second-guesses his fiancee's innocence and determination to clear her name, so she'll overlook his passion for onion sandwiches and traffic-cone orange, cheese-flavored potato chips.

Meanwhile, the boxed wine is flowing around the convivial poolside at the Coronado Apartments, where Phil and Helen both rent (separately, thank you). The figurative and literal watering hole often provides the setting for impromptu, paper-plate suppers among the more social of the Coronado's tenants, as overseen by Marlboro-puffing, screwdriver-slugging, septugenarian landlady-with-an-attitude Margery.

Gotta love her.

Readers can look forward to plenty of excitement at the Coronado, at the consignment shop, and in St. Louis as the author redefines and redirects Helen's life on three major fronts.

The action scarcely lets up in this latest Dead-End Job mystery, in which Viets pours on the humor, mostly in the form of deliciously sarcastic dialogue, as Helen does with the genuine maple syrup she encounters while breakfasting on blueberry pancakes at an upscale diner.

Here's something tailor-made for a summer totebag, whether it's designer or dollar-store, whether you're headed to Florida or simply lounging around the pool, be it decorative-tiled or merely inflatable. And, whether your wine comes in cardboard or glass. "Tip it!" as Kathy Griffin's mother says.

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