This Pen For Hire by Laura Levine
(Kensington, $22.00, NV) ISBN 0-7582-0158-3
Jaine Austen (her mother was an Anglophile but a poor speller) is a free-lance writer. She writes advertising copy, letters, personals, and such. She is asked by Howard Murdoch to write a letter to aerobics instructor Stacy Lawrence. He admires her and wants to ask her out on a date but is too shy to approach her directly. Jaine doesn’t think much of his chances. He’s geeky looking and lives with his mother, but she writes the letter.

To her surprise, Stacy agrees to the date. Things do not proceed as planned. Howard is found standing over Stacy’s dead body with the murder weapon, a bloody ThighMaster, in his hands; he is arrested. Jaine cannot believe that Howard could possibly be the culprit. Police Detective Rea refuses to investigate further on her word so she begins looking into the crime herself.

She finds that a number of people had a possible motive for the crime, but still the police are unpersuaded. Jaine refuses to give up.

Although the whodunit part of This Pen For Hire hangs together rather neatly, you won’t want to read it for that reason. Written in the first person, This Pen For Hire is as much about Jaine herself as about the mystery. Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series will want to check her out. Jaine lives in the Los Angeles area and the book’s characters are West Coast in outlook rather than quirky Trenton, New Jersey, residents, but the overall tone of the book is very Plum-ish.

Jaine is a woman with a cat named Prozac (who’s as responsive as Rex, the gerbil), a nutritionally inadequate diet heavy on high-calorie, high-fat foods that she can’t resist in spite of her professed intentions, an out-of-shape body, a nearly non-existent dating/sex life, a weakness for shopping, and a distinctly mouthy attitude. And, also in the Stephanie Plum tradition, this book is light on the gore and heavy on the humor.

Jasmine led the class with unbounded energy-part cheerleader, part Marine drill sergeant. My fellow classmates, with their washboard abs and buns of steel, had no trouble keeping up with her. I, on the other hand, with my jello thighs and marshmallow tummy, felt like every breath might be my last. The only parts of my body I managed to move with ease were my eyelids.

Trust me. It was not a pretty picture. My thighs were rubbing together so badly, I was afraid they were going to set my leggings on fire.

The cover describes This Pen For Hire as “A Jaine Austen Mystery” which indicates this is the first in an intended series. With its characters and framework well-established, this initial effort is a very promising beginning.

If you need something to tide you over till the next number in the Stephanie Plum series is issued, you may want to check out This Pen For Hire. It doesn’t have any exploding cars or disasters at the local funeral parlor, but you’ll feel right at home with Jaine.

--Lesley Dunlap

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