(Jump to read a review of A Date You Can't Refuse)
(Jump down to read a review of Dating Dead Men)
(reviewed by Guy Savage FEB 29, 2008)
"But stories don’t stop and start cleanly, not like crossword puzzles or income tax statements, where answers fit into small boxes. Romance, families, and domestic arrangements—these in my experience, are sloppy, overlapping and riddled with exceptions."
Dead Ex from author Harley Jane Kozak is the third mystery in a series featuring likeable heroine, Wollie Shelley. Wollie is living, at least temporarily, with her new beau, FBI agent Simon Alexander. The relationship only has a two-week history, but so far things look promising. Then one day, the telephone interrupts their passionate tussles, and the news isn’t good.
David Zetrakis, the producer of popular daytime soap opera, The End of the Day is found dead in his lavish mansion. At first, everyone draws the reasonable conclusion that David, who suffered from terminal cancer, died of natural causes. But it seems that someone couldn’t wait for David’s death—he was shot in the head. There is no shortage of motives; David left a sizeable estate with numerous, generous bequests, but he intended to rewrite the will just before he was murdered. He also planned to write numerous cast members out of the soap opera, and out of their jobs. While everyone speculates just why David was murdered, one person emerges as the prime suspect—Wollie’s good friend, soap opera actress Joey Rafferty.
Wollie comes to Joey’s aid, and she soon finds herself embroiled in the world of temperamental soap opera egos. Rubbing elbows with various cast members from The End of the Day, she’s offered a job as a dating correspondent on the gossipy, tell-all programme SoapDirt. Wollie, who is basically homeless and jobless, can’t turn down the offer. She needs the money, and she reasons that proximity may help her solve the crime and protect Joey from a murder charge. With a bad dye job and a bitchy, egomaniac for a co-worker, Wollie soon has reason to regret accepting the job.
As the murder investigation continues, Wollie juggles the demands of SoapDirt with her desire to help and protect Joey. Hounded by paparazzi, Joey’s life is further complicated by her ongoing marital dispute with her husband, Elliott—a man who “made and lost small fortunes three times in two decades” and whose face “suggested hard playing and late nights.”
Wollie is an extremely likeable heroine and an easy-going character. This makes the book a fun, humorous, light-hearted read with little required from the reader. But at the same time, while Wollie is the heroine and the protagonist, for a large section of the novel, she’s following Joey around, or trying to locate Joey as she surfaces at AA meetings throughout Southern California. The novel also blends threads of The Iliad into the action, and a clever connection exists between Greek tragedy and soap opera high drama. The book is primarily a mystery, but there’s a heavy thread of romance in the form of Simon. Kozak very sensibly lays out the foundation for further novels in the series, and it’s obvious to this reader, at least, that Simon and Joey are a doomed mismatch of wildly contrasting personalities.
- Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Dead Ex at Random House(back to top)
"Dating Dead Men"
(reviewed by Kam Aures JUN 01, 2004)
"The Dating Project consisted of fifteen women around the country dating six hundred men over a period of six months, in an organized and documented manner. Each subject enlisted one or more discriminating friends to create her List and compose an ad to run in the Personals section of local newspapers, and/or the Internet. The friends fielded responses, interrogated the men, and scheduled a preliminary meeting - what Fredreeq called the Drive-by --to determine, for instance, whether a prospect who claimed to be five nine was indeed five nine, and to allow the prospect to get a look at the woman in question. It sounded like a lot of work, but as Dr. Cookie pointed out, most people have a matchmaking instinct, and in fact, finding discriminating friends was the easy part."
Wollie Shelley runs Wollie's Welcome! Greetings in a Los Angeles strip mall. To make a much needed five thousand dollars she has opted to participate in Dr. Cookie's dating research project. Her friends Fredreeq and Joey are the ones whom she chooses to set up her dates for her. In the midst of her speed dating she is also trying to get her greeting card store upgraded from Welcome! to Wilkommen! status which would allow her to buy the store. Mr. Bundt, the field representative for Welcome! Greetings Corporation seems to always catch Wollie at the wrong time making the prospect of an upgrade look bleak.
Even though these two storylines would be enough to make the novel interesting there is yet a third. Wollie's brother P.B. is a schizophrenic in a state mental hospital. During one of Mr. Bundt's inspections of the store P.B. calls Wollie and starts talking about a murder and asking for aluminum foil. When Wollie drives in the middle of the night to bring him his aluminum foil she finds a dead body in the driveway to the hospital and once inside is taken hostage by a man dressed like a doctor who is on the run from the Mob. The majority of the novel focuses on this third storyline with the first two taking the back burner. This, in a way, was kind of disappointing to me because I would have liked to see more on The Dating Project. It also added a little bit of confusion to the novel in that it was hard to keep all of the characters straight since many appeared only for a very short time. At many times there was almost too much going on in the book at once and the novel may have flowed more smoothly without so many subplots. Each storyline would have worked as a book by itself. However, in spite of this I found the book to be an engaging and humorous read.
What drew me to this novel at first were the references that I had seen beforehand comparing Kozak to one of my favorite authors Janet Evanovich. After reading Dating Dead Men I do agree that there are a lot of similarities in their writing styles and that Kozak, with a little fine tuning, is on the right track to follow in Evanovich's footsteps. Like Stephanie Plum, Kozak has created a hilarious and likeable female character in Wollie Shelly.
In the Acknowledgement section of her book Kozak states, "It took a long time to write this book, due to interesting day jobs and a dawdling nature - so long that the list of those who helped me out along the way is also ... long. It took so long that several people actually died waiting for it and several others were born (to me). To the former, I apologize for not writing faster; to the latter, for typing while breast-feeding."
According to the author biography a sequel to Dating Dead Men is in the works and hopefully it will not take as long to write as this one did.
- Amazon readers rating: from 44 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Dating Dead Men at the author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Dating Dead Men (January 2004) / /
- Dating is Murder (March 2005)
- Dead Ex (August 2007)
- A Date You Can't Refuse (March 2009)
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- Official website for Harley Jane Kozak and The Lipstick Chronicles
- The unofficial website for Harley Jank Kozak and her acting career.
- Actress filmography
- Murder By the Book interview with Harley Jane Kozak
- Who-dunnit review of Dating Dead Men
- USA Today review of Dating Dead Men
- BookReporter review of Dating Dead
- BookReporter review of Dead Ex
- MostlyFiction.com review of A Date You Can't Refuse
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About the Author:
Harley Jane Kozak was born in 1957, the youngest of eight children, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Shortly after her birth, her father died and her mother moved the family to North Dakota and then to Lincoln, Nebreska to teach music at the university. At 19, having already performed in 30 plays, she went to New York's Lower East Side and was accepted into the professional acting training program at NYU's School of the Arts. After two years on the soap opera Guiding Light, she moved to Los Angeles to appear on Santa Barbara where she met her end, being crushed to death by a giant letter "C."
Kozak has appeared in more than a dozen television shows and feature films, including When Harry Met Sally as Billy Crystal's ex-wife, Parenthood, The Favor, and Arachnophobia. She lives in California with her husband and three children.