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HALF-PRICE HOMICIDE


By Elaine Viets

NAL/Obsidian, 2010 ($)
ISBN-10: 0451229894
ISBN-13: 978-451-22989-2

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Helen Hawthorne is working in a resale shop for the rich and famous in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Vera Salinda, the owner of Snapdragon's Second Thoughts, is happy to have such a hard-working employee willing to work for a pittance, and asks no questions about her background. One of the store's frequent customers, Chrissy Martlet, the wife of a wealthy but controlling husband, gets around his withholding of spending money by buying expensive clothes, then selling them on consignment to get some ready cash. Helen is dusting ugly ceramic monkeys and other tasteless but expensive junk one afternoon when Chrissy comes in to offload a designer purse. Her husband Danny follows her into the store, they have a major argument in the dressing room, and he stomps out. Chrissy's body is discovered later in the dressing room, but is it suicide by designer scarf or murder by Limoges pineapple? To Helen's dismay, the homicide detective who shows up is Richard McNelly, who told her at their last meeting, also involving a homicide, that he'd arrest her if he ever saw her again. He doesn't, but he lets her know she's a suspect. She tries to stay on his good side because she is hiding a secret that will cause him to arrest her.

She left a high-paying job, changed her name, and has been living on a series of "dead end jobs," dropping off the grid and getting paid under the table because of a very odd provision her husband Rob insisted on in their divorce decree. The judge ruled that she has to give him half of her salary in perpetuity, even though he lived off her earnings all during their marriage without even trying to find work. Her fiancé Phil, a private investigator, wants the slime bag out of their lives, and urges Helen to go back to St. Louis, hire a good lawyer, and get the ridiculous divorce provision overturned.

Thanks to Helen's colorful, bawdy landlady Margery, Rob found a more profitable wife, a rich lady with a reputation as a Black Widow. That lady got sick of Rob's greed and offered him a cool million to just disappear, and he did. Helen doesn't even care if that disappearance is permanent; in fact, she hopes it is, but alas, the bum spent all that money and comes crawling back to Helen.

Helen's current dead end job barely pays enough for her to live in her small apartment, and she's also paying for her mother's care in a local nursing home. Helen seems to be either extremely kind-hearted or a real pushover. The reason Mom is in the nursing home? She showed up at Helen and Phil's wedding and denounced her as a slut. She'd always liked Rob, and didn't care who knew it. In the midst of trashing her daughter's reputation, she'd had a heart attack and is now in a coma, her life slipping away. Her second husband, Larry, is back home in Ohio, happy to let Helen and her sister take care of their mother while he counts up his inheritance.

I had one problem with the otherwise satisfying story. Near the end, there is another death of a person close to Helen, and someone unknown makes a blackmail threat. There is a brief exchange about it between Helen and her sister, and then the matter is not referred to again. I'm not sure if this was an oversight, or if it's meant to be a "to be continued" plot line. Still, it is an enjoyable addition to the Dead End Job series.

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