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by Harley Jane Kozak
Doubleday, August 2007
338 pages
ISBN: 0385518021

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I've been meaning to catch up with Harley Jane Kozak's series for some time, and am glad I did. DEAD EX is warm, witty and thoroughly diverting.

Wollie Shelley is a greetings card designer who seems to stumble into murder enquiries with worrying regularity. This time her best friend Joey is the main suspect after soap opera producer David Zetrakis is found dead the day after Christmas Day.

Mind you, Zetrakis appears to have had past history with most of Los Angeles, including Wollie herself, and has also made some very generous bequests in his will including a million dollar painting to Joey.

DEAD EX is an absolutely delightful romp around Los Angeles and the tacky world of television. Wollie, whose finances are looking a touch embarrassed, finds herself as the dating correspondent on SoapDirt which means having dinner with some fairly bizarre stars and then dishing the gossip on them afterwards.

Kozak, herself an actress, provides a host of laugh-aloud moments (my favourite by a mile was Wollie's date at a Tibetan monks concert!), and I loved the bits where card designs pop into her head at inopportune moments. But the book also skewers the shallow television and movie industry, as well as family hypocrisy.

Wollie has a slightly rocky private life herself, including her relationship with FBI agent boyfriend Simon, and her brother PB who has mental health problems and is about to transfer from a hospital to a halfway house.

The supporting cast is fabulous, namely Apollo the teenage engineering geek, Wollie's Uncle Theo and his house full of illegal Greek immigrants, Navarre the monosyllabic boyfriend of the TV star who wants Wollie to paint a bizarre mural on their garden wall, and their eccentric neighbours who appear to have Cape Canaveral in their back garden!

There's not a lot in the way of tension in DEAD EX, though, and at times I found I wasn't that bothered about the plot (Kozak takes a risk in killing off someone we don't know). And there's a problem with the character of Joey, who is selfish, self-centred and utterly unwilling to help herself but who is prepared to put Wollie in danger on more than one occasion. And I was faintly bemused by Wollie's weird affair with Simon. I need to read the earlier books to see where he fits into everything, but I have one question: "Surely FBI agents get married?"

In the end, though, these misgivings are minor I was just utterly hooked by the storytelling and the characters. And there's a neat ending that in the wrong hands could have been corny, but in Kozak's safe grasp was perfect. DEAD EX is a delight from start to finish.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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