In Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge by Laura Levine, commercial writer Jaine Austen’s best friend, Lance, asks her to join him in house sitting in the swanky Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel Air. The only problem is that Connie van Hooten, the owner of the house, has a lot of breakable antiques, so Jaine can’t bring her cat, Prozac, with her. When it doesn’t work out with the pet hotel, Jaine takes Prozac to Casa van Hooten temporarily, only to receive a call from the next door neighbor that Prozac has escaped the house and ended up with her. Missy Parker offers to take care of the cat, but her husband, Scotty, demands payment for boarding the pet. Then he offers to take in Prozac in exchange for Jaine’s help editing his screenplay, The Return of Tiny Tim: Vengeance Is Mine!, a request the cash-strapped writer can’t turn down. Scotty turns out to have alienated everyone around. So when, on Christmas morning, Jaine discovers Scotty bashed on the head with a frozen chocolate Yule log, there seems to be no shortage of suspects. Unfortunately for Jaine, with her fingerprints on the weapon, she heads the list.
So Jaine decides that she must take on her role as the “part-time, semi-professional PI” and investigate all the potential suspects for herself. In the meantime, life goes on for Jaine and those around her. For one thing, Lance tries to hook up with the mail carrier, Graham, and he works to help Jaine find a date, even signing her up secretly on Smatch.com. Jaine gets stuck with a bunch of losers as she goes on several dates. Missy continues to help care for Prozac, but she now calls the cat Scarlett and gets her a lot of new toys, including a skunk she names Rhett Butler, earning the cat’s devotion with human tuna and other cat delicacies. And Jaine still has to find the murderer.
Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge is written as a humorous mystery, which is made obvious in the choice of a frozen chocolate Yule log as a murder weapon. Jaine gives plenty of internal personal commentary in a snide manner but returns each time to a more respectful, deferential manner in her public persona. Her addiction to chunky monkey ice cream adds to the humor, as she turns to it as a form of therapy. The commentaries offered up by Prozac/ Scarlett create further humorous moments, capturing the attitude of a cat very aptly. The book spends a lot of time in personal details, with the murder’s not even occurring until halfway through.
The book has an interesting mystery and investigative path taken by Jaine to find the murderer. As she uncovers each person’s secrets, she finds even more motives for murder and new suspects. This string of duplicities eventually begins to feel a little ridiculous, as it seems unrealistic to have so many people in one setting live such extreme double lives. I also would have preferred to have seen the murder take place earlier in the book. The first half gives no sense of its being part of a mystery, though by the end, we recognize that much of the material in the first half offers the details necessary for Jaine to unmask the double lives of each character.
Death of a Neighborhood Scrooge is a creative book, and those who have enjoyed the prior books in the Jaine Austen series will surely have fun with this newest book. Personally, I was not particularly drawn to it, finding the characters somewhat implausible and hard to connect with. The internal commentaries by Jaine became tiresome to me. Further, the string of suspects gets almost ridiculous. Thus, I give this book three stars.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free for review purposes, but that had no influence on the content of my review.
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