Mia Geiger

‘Dating Dead Men’: Chick lit gets mixed up with the Mob
By Mia Geiger
Special for USA TODAY

Dating can be murder.

So can cavorting with members of organized crime.

Greeting-card artist Wollie Shelley is neck-deep in both pursuits in
Harley Jane Kozak’s engaging debut novel, Dating Dead Men.

Kozak, an actress who had roles in The Guiding Light and When Harry Met
Sally, demonstrates a flair for crisp dialogue and sly humor in a novel
that’s part chick lit, part mystery.

The book is narrated by the wryly funny, thirtysomething Wollie, whose
greeting-card shop is in a seedy part of Los Angeles: “It wasn’t the
prettiest corner of the world, but I couldn’t afford the franchise if it
were. And my philosophy was, hookers need greeting cards, too.”

Wollie is working on a research assignment for a radio program in which
she must date 40 men in 60 days   talk about the ultimate reality show.
Between dates, she stumbles upon a murder that she fears might involve
her brother, a patient in a mental hospital.

While visiting him, she encounters a man “posing” as a doctor. True to
Wollie’s quirkiness and desire for romance, she’s smitten. His dark good
looks and dimples erase her fears.

“Doc” has many secrets, and our plucky heroine can’t resist trying to
discover what he’s hiding. Meanwhile, she searches for the dead man’s
killer and unwittingly gets involved with organized-crime thugs looking
for a package they believe she has. She’s also suffering through some
pretty awful dates.

Screwball antics reminiscent of ones carried out by author Janet
Evanovich’s New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum could dub Wollie the
designated ditsy detective of the West Coast.

Plum gets advice from the irascible Grandma Mazur, while Wollie relies
on the spirit of Ruta, the Polish-Jewish woman who helped raise her.

In her head, Wollie hears Ruta when she finds the dead man: “Brave
schmave. … How do you know that’s a corpse? What if it’s a person
trying to get to a hospital, taking a rest along the way, maybe having a
small coma?”

Kozak matches this endearing protagonist with effectively drawn minor
players, including two sassy girlfriends and a ferret named Margaret.
The clever plot incorporates twists and suspenseful moments, although
not all the pieces snap together tightly.

No matter: Wollie’s madcap exploits are a hoot.

 

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