Wollie Shelley's ex has just been murdered. David Zetrakis was a "hyphenate" --- a soap opera actor-director-producer who had been fatally ill with cancer. Now someone has shot him. Wollie is a bit of a hyphenate herself: a mural painter-greeting card entrepreneur-amateur detective who is temporarily living with her FBI boyfriend, Simon.
At a cocktail party, Wollie's mural starring two frogs is unveiled to great acclaim. An odd elderly man named Sheffo hires her on the spot to paint Greek gods on his fence. At the same party, one of Wollie's best friends, Joey, accuses her husband of cheating on her. Then she makes cryptic remarks about David's murder before she passes out.
Wollie and her other best friend, Fredreeq, haul Joey to Simon's. Unfortunately, the media is very focused on Joey's relationship with David, calling him her boyfriend and insinuating he had something to do with her recent marital problems. Wollie fears that the police are headed down the same path of suspicion, with Joey as the main suspect for David's murder.
Jen Kim, producer of a program about soap operas called "SoapDirt," wants to hire Wollie to date the hottest stars on daytime TV and then report back on her show. Wollie is reluctant until she hears she will make a thousand bucks an episode, five episodes a week. Wollie needs the money --- particularly to help her brother, who happens to be a schizophrenic, get into an excellent halfway house --- so she very reluctantly agrees to be the "dating correspondent" for "SoapDirt."
While Wollie begins dating soap opera stars, Simon starts hinting --- well, actually, he tells her outright --- that she should find a new place to live. Supposedly, the reason has to do with his job. But Wollie wonders about his motives, even though he appears to be quite smitten with her even after she returns home from a makeover with irreversible orange Ronald McDonald hair. Wollie speculates about Simon's gorgeous young housekeeper, the one with the major Attitude. Is she somehow part of Simon's work, the part he can never discuss with Wollie? She can only hope.
Meanwhile, all signs point to Joey --- who had motive, means and opportunity galore --- as the murderer. But Wollie knows her friend is innocent. She must locate the real killer before the police find Joey, but Wollie's life has gotten complicated. Essentially homeless, she's kissing soap opera stars she's never met while being filmed for the show and (trying to) read THE ILIAD as research for her fence project, along with helping Joey avoid the authorities. But things turn even more ominous and complex when another crime takes place.
I recently raved about the first two books in this series to friends; DEAD EX is another winner with its irresistible good spirits and humor. Wollie never takes herself too seriously. She has an endearing air of innocence and yearning not often found in mystery series sleuths. Harley Jane Kozak is an actress you might remember from a number of TV shows and films, including "Santa Barbara" and Parenthood. Kozak is just as entertaining spinning a riveting mystery story, and her insider take on Hollywood is irreverent and enjoyable.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on December 29, 2010