In 2003, television comedy writer Laura Levine created a female sleuth in the person of freelance copywriter Jaine Austen. Jaine soon became a member in good standing of a select club of wisecracking female detectives, including famed fictional P.I.s Stephanie Plum and Kinsey Milhone, all of the quick comeback school of detecting.

After penning her first book, This Pen for Hire, Levine went on to please mystery fans with her clever plots and wry humor. Now she has penned her 10th installment in the series, aptly titled Pampered to Death, wherein Jaine heads off for a week of spa relaxation at The Haven, a dubiously named retreat that turns out to be a “fat farm,” or weight loss center, where weigh-ins are public torture and dessert consists of a wilted slice of mango.

The Haven becomes a perfect setting for Jaine’s hilarious brand of detecting, her one-liners as abundant as the book’s off-beat characters—including the sleuth’s cat, Prozac, a feline who’s dying for a bacon bit amidst all the lean cuisine. Equally comic are Jaine’s asides, when she shares what she imagines her compatriots are saying. In Jaine’s mind, the spa owner calls her “a tub of lard” when she’s really only calling out Jaine’s weight at the daily weigh-in, a number Jaine describes as a “carefully guarded national secret.”

The early pages are devoted to a spa-full of suspects—seems everyone at The Haven has a motive for wanting spa guest and B-list movie actress Mallory Francis out of the running . . . for good. The A-list of possibles includes Mallory’s disgruntled personal assistants; the pill-popping spa owner; former co-star Clint; and a jealous athletic instructor whose husband is dallying with the bodacious film star.

After the body is discovered—strangled with spa-healthy kelp—Jaine’s detecting begins in earnest. Her desire to escape the premises at the earliest possible moment is thwarted by the police, who want no one to leave town ‘til the murderer is apprehended. That’s plenty of incentive for Jaine to employ her detecting skills, even after she nearly becomes a victim herself, held under water by unknown hands in the spa’s Jacuzzi.

Unfortunately, there are distracting and un-funny e-mails scattered throughout the book. Minus those, this humorous send-up of health spas is sure to score high in reader caloric count—a tasty treat for Jaine Austen fans everywhere.

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