When Jaine lands a job writing web copy and brochures for matchmaker Joy Amoroso, she’s excited for a chance to help the lovelorn just in time for Valentine’s Day – until she realizes what “Dates of Joy” is really all about. Joy is a ruthless taskmaster who screams at her employees for the smallest infractions, pads her website with pictures of professional models posing as clients, and offers up convincing but empty promises of love in exchange for inordinate sums of money. And woe betide anyone who lays a finger on her heavily guarded stash of chocolates. So it’s no surprise when the chiselling cupid turns up dead at a Valentine’s Day mixer. Aghast to find herself on the cops’ suspect list, Jaine sets out to track down the killer. Who could it be? Joy’s harried assistants, whose lives she made a living hell? Her younger lover? The handsome hunk of a client with a secret in his past? Or the furious Beverly Hills widow who forked over the last of her savings for a Prince Charming who never materialized? Joy left behind a slew of enemies struck by her deviant arrows, so finding the culprit may prove harder than spotting that elusive caramel praline in a box of chocolates – and Jaine will have to flirt with danger to get to the truth…
Laura Levine’s newest Jaine Austen mystery is light and fun, but left me wishing for something with a little more substance. Jaine’s breezy, somewhat snarky first-person narration fits the novel’s style, which mixes eccentric characters and sometimes-hilarious situations in with the mystery. Some of the scenes with her cat-obsessed, elderly “date” are pretty amusing – especially the one in which he takes her to meet his (deceased) mother. In one of the funniest scenes, Jane gets into a disagreement with a pair of squirrels that leaves her in an embarrassing state of dishabille. I also rather like Jaine’s cat, Prozac, who demonstrates all the infuriating inconsistency and superior attitude of some real cats I’ve met.
The mystery itself engaged my attention, and I freely admit that I didn’t solve it before the reveal (although for the record, I did briefly consider the murderer early on, before dismissing them.*) There are a few genuinely suspenseful scenes, though the tension is tempered by the fact that we know Jaine survives — after all, she’s narrating!
However, several factors led to this being only an “OK” read for me. I know that cozy mysteries are often filled with eccentric characters, but most of the secondary characters here felt like nothing but eccentricities, and they’re all pretty two-dimensional. One of my personal pet peeves is when authors rely on obvious, even exaggerated quirks or traits to identify characters without giving them much depth beyond those traits. That’s definitely a problem here, from the aforementioned elderly suitor to Jaine’s flamboyantly gay, utterly self-absorbed friend/neighbor. Jaine herself is more 3-dimensional (due in part to the fact that she’s the narrator, so we hear her inner thoughts), but Levine gives her a few of those over-simplified character “tags” as well, in the form of an obsession with food (especially chocolate) and a lack of fashion sense, both of which the author dwells upon a little too often.
A series of emails from Jaine’s parents provide intermittent breaks in Jaine’s narrative. Jaine’s parents are as wacky as the rest of the characters, and the ongoing saga related in their letters is funny, even laugh-out-loud hysterical at times — but neither her parents nor their antics have anything to do with the mystery. Because the emails don’t contribute to the plot, they end up feeling like padding instead of a subplot.
All in all, Killing Cupid isn’t a bad book, it’s just not a great one. If you like your cozies very light, with plenty of humor and a dollop of snark, I think you’ll enjoy it despite its flaws. And you don’t even have to start at the beginning of the series (always a plus in a mystery series!) On the other hand, if you are like me and prefer even your cozy mysteries to have a little more body (pardon the pun!), it may be best to look elsewhere.
*Yes, I know that’s not grammatical, but if I say either “him” or “her”, I’ve reduced your pool of suspects by roughly one half, so it was the best word choice I could come up with.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Category: Cozy mystery
Series: Jaine Austen #12
Release date: Dec. 31, 2013
Book source: review e-galley from the publisher
About the author: Laura Levine grew up in Brooklyn, attended Barnard College, and wrote screenplays for TV sitcoms like The Bob Newhart Show, Three’s Company, Laverne & Shirley, The Love Boat, The Jeffersons, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. More recently, she has turned her talents to writing the Jaine Austen mysteries. Killer Cupid is the 12th book in the series. (adapted from the author’s website)