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American/Cozy Mysteries

Just Murdered, Elaine Viets, Signet, $6.50.

Just Murdered by Elaine Viets

The hapless Helen Hawthorne is at it again - she's working another dead end job, after telemarketing didn't work out for her. This time she's in a fancy bridal boutique working as an underpaid salesperson serving an assortment of dysfunctional brides and their mothers, as well as an all too street smart boss, Millicent. The bridezilla to take the cake is actually a mother of the bride - the glamorous, snaky Kiki, who drags her plain Jane daughter into Millicent's to buy her the wedding dress of Kiki's dreams, that will also - if all goes well - cost her ex-husband an arm and a leg. Kiki gets everything she wants; her daughter, Desiree, gets to wear the dress of her choice at the reception only. The dress her mother chooses for her to wear at the ceremony is hopelessly unflattering - as Desiree puts it, she looks like "a homely Hapsburg Princess". Of course, as any astute mystery reader will guess, Kiki isn't long for this world, but as with every other novel in this delightful series, that's almost beside the point.

The real charm of this series lies in the setting - Ft. Lauderdale as seen through the eyes of the working class, as well as whatever dead end job Helen has in each book. So far she's worked in a dress shop, a bookstore, and as a telemarketer; the South Florida bridal biz is obviously a rich field to be mined, as Viets turns her sharp pen and eye to the ultra nouveau riche who are spending as much on a wedding as most sane people (here in the midwest anyway) would spend on a house. The other great strength of these novels is, of course, Helen herself, a heroine for the new millennium. Helen, on the run from a cheating ex-husband who wants to be paid alimony by Helen, works off the books for cash so he can't find her. She seems to fit into today's culture of uncertain, floating employment all too perfectly, while at the same time offering the reassurance that if this were to happen to you, you too could find a cute but cheap apartment owned by a charming landlady and perhaps find the man of your dreams living next door (known to regular Viets' readers as Phil, the invisible pothead). After finally getting together in the last installment Helen and Phil are having some problems - but that only serves to spice up the fast moving, entertaining and very funny plot. Viets is a dab hand at characterization too - she is very adept at fleshing out the character of the hapless Desiree, who comes into her own after her mother's death. Viets makes this all look easy, and the result is a more than enjoyable read that is unfortunately over all too quickly. I can't wait to see where Helen ends up next.

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