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Review: Viets' 'Half-Price Homicide' offers entertaining value

Terrible jobs with nasty bosses, horrible customers and dreadful hours are the foundation of Elaine Viets' award-winning series. After all, it's not called the Dead-End Job series for nothing.

But in Half-Price Homicide, it's not just the job that flummoxes Helen Hawthorne. Without losing track of the strong humor, eccentric characters and backdrop of Fort Lauderdale, Viets puts Helen through at least three major life-changing situations and forces her to make hard choices — not all of which will be the wisest. In the ninth novel in this series, Viets adheres to the tradition of the light, amateur sleuth mystery while giving her character new challenges and keeping the entertainment factor high.

The premise of Viets' series is that Helen, once a well-paid executive, takes a series of low-paying, off-the-grid jobs because she refused a court order to give her cheating husband lifelong alimony. In addition to the absurd situations that arise from these jobs, Viets' series also is a window on how low-paid employees often are so taken for granted that they seem invisible.

In Half-Price Homicide, Helen actually has a good boss in Vera Salinda, a savvy businesswoman who owns the upscale resale shop Snapdragon's Second Thoughts. It's the customers Helen has trouble dealing with: wealthy women who come to the shop to sell their expensive clothes. The in-store death of a rich developer's wife makes Snapdragon's unfashionable and puts the spotlight on Vera's business plan.

As Helen is caught up in the investigation, her personal life takes a new direction, including a proposal from her longtime boyfriend, Phil.

Half-Price Homicide's breezy plot moves like lightning while showcasing myriad characters, especially the eccentric residents of Helen's close-knit apartment building. Viets adds a variety of Broward landmarks, including the Floridian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and the Coral Rose Cafe in Hollywood. When the action moves to St. Louis, Viets gives a fine view of the city where she grew up. Half-Price Homicide is a good value.

Half-Price Homicide

By Elaine Viets

Obsidian, 272 pages, $22.95

Review: Viets' 'Half-Price Homicide' offers entertaining value 05/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 5:40pm]
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