Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book Review: Dead Ex by Harley Jane Kozak (Wollie Shelley #3)

Stars: 4 stars out of 5
Pros: Great characters and sense of humor
Cons: Plot pacing
The Bottom Line:
Professional dates
With soap opera hunks are
Backdrop for great book

Who Would Kill a Terminally Ill Man?

Greeting card designer turned professional dater Wollie Shelley appears in her third LA based mystery. Professional dater? Yep. After a stint an a failed reality series (is there any such thing?), Wollie gets another stab at television dating in Dead Ex, a fun book set in the world of soap operas.

The day after Christmas, terminally ill soap opera producer David Zetrakis is found murdered in his Los Angeles mansion. That actually means something to Wollie since she dated him for a few months many years ago. But the sense of loss she feels is nothing compared to that of her friend Joey Rafferty who had stayed friendly with David after her own breakup with the man. In fact, she was at his house just before he died.

And that's why the police zero in on Joey as their prime suspect. When they begin questioning her, they quickly realize she is hiding something. But what? As Joey begins to act more and more strangely, Wollie realizes she is going to need to step in to solve the crime.

Fortunately, Wollie has just been handed the perfect platform. She's been asked to become the dating correspondent on SoapDirt, a daily look into the world of soap operas. And her first dates are with the men of David's soap, At the End of the Day. Unfortunately, this new job doesn't sit well with Wollie's boyfriend, FBI agent Simon. But he's started acting strangely himself. Beside, Wollie has enough to figure out. Why would someone shoot a man about to die anyway? Did one of Wollie's new men commit the crime? And what is Joey hiding?

As you might guess, this is another light, fun mystery, perfectly in keeping with the first two. Author Harley Jane Kozak knows the world of soap operas well since she spent a few years acting on them. This knowledge adds a dose of realism to the fun. Yet the book never once takes the setting too seriously. There are lots of funny things that happen amidst the tragedy. And Wollie's narration often offers doses of sarcasm. Her asides and observations really add to the appeal of the book.

The characters are great. The returning characters are still well developed and interesting. Wollie is fully developed and likable. You want to spend time with her. Joey obviously gets lots of page time, and her behavior is believable even while puzzling. I found myself alternating on my opinion of Simon. At times I really liked him. And at other times I wished he'd get a clue or at least give Wollie one on what was really going on in his life. Of course, my feelings were usually mirroring Wollie's at the time.

The new characters are sharp as well. Granted, some of them slip into stereotypes, but those are the ones who are in the background. The real suspects are better developed and interesting.

The plot is the only weakness in the book. It starts strong, with lots of mysterious things happening and clues that made little to no sense. In fact, I was enjoying the fact that it often seemed to mirror a soap opera's plot twists. Dating has become the theme of the series, but unlike the last book, it actually served a purpose to the overall story here. It stumbled in the second half, however. It gets bogged down with very little happening to further the story for a while. Then, when it does get to the ending, things seemed rushed. Not the actual climax, which was gripping, but the denouncement, which almost glossed over a few key plot points. They are mentioned, but in a haphazard manner.

The pacing of the plot is the only problem with Dead Ex. On the whole, I really enjoyed it. This is certain to please Wollie's many fans.

And if you want to read more, here are the Wollie Shelley Mysteries in order.

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