I mentioned when I read Viets’ collections of columns from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Urban Affairs and Viets Guide to Sex, Travel, and Anything Else That Will Sell This Book in 2009 and 2010 respectively) that I would delve into her fiction. Well, I read both books after we moved from Old Trees to Nogglestead, and I had not seen any of Viets’ fiction until the Lutherans for Life garage sale in 2017. I don’t tend to hang about in the mystery sections of book stores or book sales much these days, so it would have to be a garage sale for me to find them.
Also, I clearly did not jump right into the book six years ago. But it seemed a thing to read between chapters/sections of Our Oriental Heritage.
This book is the 13th entry (of 15) in Viets’ Dead-End Job Mysteries. Which means that the series has a lot of business in it already, and that takes up a good portion of the book.
The main mystery revolves around the purebred kitten of a socialite who shares custody of said cat with her husband. The kitten is kidnapped, or Catnapped! as the title would have it. The main character, Helen Hawthorne, and her husband are private investigators engaged to find the kitten. They find the ex-husband murdered, and the socialite is arrested. Meanwhile, the ex-husband of the owner of their apartment building shows up after thirty years of shacking up with another woman–he wants to reconcile, but she most assuredly does not. When he winds up dead, she, too, is arrested for the murder.
So we have two or three crimes that the duo investigates. It took me a while to get into it–as you know, gentle reader, despite this being the second cozy I’ve read this year (Murder, She Wrote: The Maine Mutiny being the first for the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge), they’re not my bag.
The particular schtick of this series is that Helen Hawthorne had been on the run from an ex-husband in St. Louis, so she takes low skill jobs for cash. According to legend (and by legend, I mean Wikipedia), Viets actually did these jobs before writing about them. By the 13th book in the series, the reason for the schtick–the ex-husband–was a problem solved in an earlier book, so Hawthorne has to go undercover as an assistant cat groomer to get close to a subject and to show us how grooming and cat show exhibiting goes on.
The other bit of series business that takes up a lot of real estate in the book is the group of people who live at the apartment building. They get together every night to watch the sun go down, and they interact a bunch. It does lead up to the third mystery, who poisoned the ex-husband, but it also fills a lot of pages with socializing and chitchat.
Most people don’t start series toward the end (or just the latest, perhaps), but it does detract a bit from the stand-aloneness of each novel. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s a line that authors have to walk between serving their long-time readers who want these elements of the book and those just looking for a mystery. This book goes a bit far in the series business.
At any rate, I liked it well enough that I’ll pick up more Viets books when I run across them, and maybe I’ll even read them six years later.