Pampered to Death (Jaine Austen Series #10)by Laura Levine
When freelance writer Jaine Austen is surprised with an über-luxe spa getaway, she and her feline pal Prozac are eager to hit the road and bask in a week of pampering and pedicures. But what she gets is a California fat farm in disguise, complete with celery-juice cocktails, humiliating weigh-ins, and a zero-tolerance position on carbs.
Among her bulge-battling companions is Mallory Francis, a B-list movie star with a knack for making frenemies. When she's found strangled during a seaweed wrap gone awry, Jaine is hard-pressed to think of anyone who couldn't have done it. While the suspects mount faster than her hunger pangs, Jaine's search for truth, justice and contraband calories leads her straight to a cold-blooded killer--where murder may be on the menu once again. . .
"Her books are so outrageously funny, they always make me laugh out loud."--Joanne Fluke
Praise for Laura Levine's Jaine Austen series
"Delightful. . .Jaine's wit shines throughout." --Publishers Weekly on Pampered to Death
"If you love a good mystery, this book is for you." --New York Journal of Books on Death of a Trophy Wife
"This will turn out to be a long series. . .likely to be compared to Janet Evanovich for its humor." --I Love a Mystery on This Pen for Hire
Dieting can be murder, as a freelance writer finds out at the health resort from hell.
Her neighbor Lance, who owes Jaine Austen (Killing Bridezilla, 2008, etc.) big time, springs for a stay for both the ad copywriter and her cat Prozac at The Haven, a fancy-schmancy spa up the Central Coast from their L.A. home. Slightly less fancy and definitely less schmancy than advertised, The Haven offers threadbare towels and even sparser provisions. Nine hundred calories a day leave the inner woman screaming for sustenance, and spa owner and diet Nazi Olga, who knows all the tricks, confiscates Jaine's stash of turkey-on-rye at the door. But worse than the cuisine is the company, from nonstop talker Cathy Kane, who saved up for years to afford this week of torture, to spoiled star Mallory Francis, who specializes in pushing Olga's buttons. Even Mallory's unhappy entourage—her sister Kendra, hairstylist Harvy [sic], former costar Clint Masters and ill-tempered Pekingese Armani—give Jaine the willies. Fortunately, someone puts a stop to Mallory's endless requests for really fresh mangoes with a lethal seaweed wrap. Unfortunately, Mallory's murder means that everyone has to stay put until the police solve the case. Not wanting to live on celery fizz or keep paying shifty chambermaid Delphine 30 bucks a pop for pastrami sandwiches forever, Jaine puts her sleuthing skills to work to find a killer before her appetite kills her.
Levine offers a full menu of clues for the detection-starved reader. But couldn't wordsmith Jaine find some slicker means of interrogation than confronting her suspects with reasons for thinking they done it?
Read an Excerpt
Pampered to DeathA Jaine Austen Mystery
By Laura Levine
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Laura Levine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDriving with my cat Prozac gives new meaning to the words "hell on wheels." On the day my story begins, she was at her very worst—crouched in her travel carrier on the passenger seat of my car, wailing at the top of her lungs.
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
And I hadn't even put the key in the ignition.
"Can't you please be quiet?" I begged.
She glared up at me from her deluxe sherpa-lined carrier and erupted in a fresh batch of wails.
This screeching would go on for hours, but I could not afford to let Prozac out of her carrier, not unless I was prepared to have her pee on the upholstery and do the cha cha on the gas pedal. I have learned from bitter experience—and nearfatal accidents—never to allow my frisky feline to roam free in a moving vehicle.
I did my best to tune her out as I started the car and focused on my destination. Believe it or not, I, Jaine Austen—a gal whose idea of a spa treatment is a soak in the tub with my good buddy Mr. Bubble—was headed up the California coast to The Haven, a swellegant spa for the rich and pampered.
This fabulous treat was a gift from my next door neighbor, Lance Venable. Mind you, Lance does not normally go around showering me with expensive gifts (or any gifts for that matter), but this was his way of thanking me for getting him off the hook for murder (a fascinating tale, which you can read all about in Death of a Trophy Wife, now available in paperback at all the usual places).
Not only did Lance foot the bill for an all-expenses-paid week at The Haven, he'd also forked over extra bucks so Prozac could stay with me.
A gesture I sorely wished he hadn't bothered to make.
Still trying to tune out her piercing wails, I thought back to the day Lance had given me my gift.
We were sitting on his living room sofa, sipping Diet Cokes and snacking on corn chips.
"I suppose you're wondering why I asked you to stop by," he said.
"You got something stuck in your garbage disposal, and you want me to put my hand down to find it?"
One of his favorite requests. "No, silly. I bought you a present!"
He reached behind a sofa cushion and took out a beautifully wrapped gift box. "Just a little something for saving my life."
"You shouldn't have, Lance," I demurred. Of course I didn't mean it. If it hadn't been for me, he'd be sitting in jail in a most unflattering orange jumpsuit.
Eagerly I clawed at the box's silk ribbons, hoping for a pair of dangly earrings or maybe a bottle of fancy perfume. Ripping it open, I peeked inside.
"Oh." My smile froze. "A piece of paper. How nice."
"Read it," he said. "It's a gift certificate to The Haven!"
"The Haven? Wow, that's fabulous, Lance. Just terrific."
"You have no idea what The Haven is, do you?"
"No," I confessed.
"It's only one of the most exclusive spas in the country. You're going to spend an entire week lolling in the lap of luxury, having each and every one of your clogged pores deep-cleaned."
I wasn't so sure about the pore cleaning thing, but a week of lolling sounded darn good to me.
"Oh, Lance! How can I ever thank you?"
"You can start by passing me the chips."
I passed him the bowl of of reduced-sodium, low-fat cardboard posing as corn chips. Lance insists on eating all sorts of ghastly low-cal food, an enthusiasm I do not share. When it comes to calories, my motto has always been The More, the Merrier.
Eventually we polished off our Diet Cokes and I bid him a fond farewell.
"Next time I see you," I promised, "I'll have the cleanest pores in all of Los Angeles."
And now, just days later, I was on my way to The Haven.
True, Prozac continued to whine nonstop for the next two hundred and thirty-seven miles. But I didn't care. I was about to spend a week luxuriating in manis, massages, and poolside margaritas.
Or so I thought.
Little did I know that also on the schedule was a little thing called murder.
Chapter TwoAt first glance, The Haven was indeed quite haven-ly. A sprawling Spanish style hacienda with red tile roof and magnificent arched windows, it stood beneath a canopy of pines, high in the hills of a rustic town on the central coast of California.
It was smaller than I'd expected, more like a private residence than a resort hotel.
But that made it all the more charming.
I pulled my Corolla into a gravel parking lot at the side of the house, and for the first time in hours, Prozac finally stopped wailing.
"We're here, honeybunny!"
She glared up at me from her carrier.
I want a divorce.
With no parking attendant in sight, I grabbed Prozac's carrier and my suitcase and made my way to the front door, stepping into a soaring two-story reception area. An elaborate wrought iron staircase wended its way to the second floor.
Nestled in a nook beside the staircase was the spa's receptionist, a middle-aged woman who wore her graying blond hair in a thick braid down her back.
She was on the phone as I walked in, but mouthed that she'd be right with me.
"Our spa package starts at $400 a day," she was saying to her caller, "depending on your accommodations."
Four hundred bucks day? I almost fainted dead on the spot.
Apparently so had the caller.
"Yes, I know it's a little high, but it's well worth it ... No, I'm afraid we don't offer AARP discounts."
While the receptionist yakked about shiatsu massages and aromatherapy, I took a look around. To my left was a dining room, set with crisp white linens, and to my right a spacious lounge with an exposed wood-beam ceiling and a fireplace big enough to park my Corolla.
"Well, give us a ring when you're ready to make a reservation," the receptionist said as she wrapped up her call, clearly unhappy to have let a customer slip through her fingers. Probably worked on commission.
Then she turned to me with a bright smile, the kind they teach you in Bed and Breakfast school.
"Welcome to The Haven!" When she got up to shake my hand, I saw she was nearly six feet tall, with the shoulders of a Valkyrie, a middle-aged poster girl for Triumph of the Will.
"I'm Olga Truitt, owner and proprietor."
How odd that the owner was manning the reception desk. At a ritzy joint like this, I'd expect her to have minions aplenty to answer the phone.
"You must be Jaine. I recognized you from your Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs T-shirt. The fellow who made your reservations told me about your appalling taste in clothes."
Okay, so she used the word eccentric instead of appalling, but I knew darn well what Lance must have told her. For some insane reason, Lance insists moths come to my closet to commit suicide.
"This must be your kitty," she said, kneeling down to get a better look at Prozac. "Let's get her out of that cage."
"I wouldn't if I were you," I warned as Olga reached for the latch on the carrier. "I'm afraid she's a little cranky right now."
Which was, of course, the understatement of the millennium. At that moment Prozac was a cross between Godzilla and a Real Housewife of New Jersey.
"Don't be silly," Olga said, flipping open the latch.
I cringed in dismay as she reached inside, imagining her chiseled cheekbones criss-crossed with bloody scratches.
But Prozac, as she often is with strangers, was a perfect angel. She leaped into Olga's arms like her long-lost daughter and stared up at her lovingly.
Thank heavens you've rescued me. You can't imagine how this dreadful woman mistreats me.
"Somebody here could stand to lose a few pounds," said Olga, bouncing her in her arms.
You're telling me. You should see how she eats between meals. I'm surprised she can still fit into her elastic waist jeans.
"Let me show you to your room." Olga lifted my heavy suitcase as if it were a feather duster.
With Prozac nestled in one arm and my suitcase in the other, she led the way down a hallway to a series of bedrooms at the rear of the house.
Once more I was puzzled. Since when do owners of fancy-dancy spas have to tote their guests' suitcases? Don't they have bellhops for stuff like that? And as we walked down the corridor, I couldn't help but notice that the walls could have used a touch of fresh paint.
"We pride ourselves on a very intimate atmosphere here at The Haven," Olga said, "catering to just a handful of guests."
She stopped at one of the carved wooden doors along the hallway and opened it with an old fashioned key.
"Here we are," she said, ushering me inside.
Aside from a slightly threadbare bedspread, it was a beautiful high-ceilinged room with a four-poster bed and antique armoire. A bowl of fresh-cut flowers graced a dresser, and gorgeous French doors led out to a screened-in patio.
"So what do you think of your home away from home?" Olga asked Prozac, plopping her down on the floor.
Prozac took an exploratory sniff or two, then looked up at the bed inquisitively.
What? No chocolates on the pillow?
Okay, I have no idea if that's what Prozac was thinking, but I sure was. I happen to like the whole chocolate-on-the-pillow thing when I travel. It's so much nicer than those silly free shower caps they give you that never even begin to cover your hair.
"Her litter box is out on the patio," Olga informed me, "and her food and water bowls are in the bathroom. Why don't you get settled, and then I'll take you on a tour of the facilities. After that, it's cocktail hour!"
She marched off with a cheery wave, her Valkyrie braid bouncing in her wake.
After she left, I checked out the bathroom, impressed with its mosaic tiles and claw footed bathtub. There, as promised, next to a pedestal sink, were a pair of earthenware bowls for Prozac.
Lance had assured me The Haven would provide the best in chow for both me and my hungry roommate.
And by now I was starving. I'd wanted to stop off for a burger on the drive up, but couldn't possibly prolong the agony of Prozac's wails.
I thought longingly of the gourmet food sure to come. I couldn't wait to dig into the hors d'oeuvres at cocktail hour. What's more, The Haven was a mere grape's throw from the central California wineries, so I eagerly awaited a glass of nerve-soothing chardonnay to accompany my snacks.
After hanging my clothes in a closet that smelled of lavender and mothballs, I left Prozac sunning herself on the screened-in patio and set off for a tour of the facilities, counting the milliseconds till cocktail hour.
"This is my pride and joy!"
Olga and I were standing in the middle of a large vegetable garden at the back of the house.
"Aren't they beautiful?" she asked, gazing lovingly at the beds of lettuce, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, and herbs at her feet.
Not nearly as beautiful, in my humble op, as a sausage pizza dripping with cheese, but I nodded in agreement, faking a nature-loving smile.
"All the produce on our menu comes from right here in this garden." She kneeled down to fondle a tomato. "It's all organic of course. Nothing toxic ever goes near my little angels."
She squeezed a leaf, and held it under my nose. A pungent aroma assaulted my nostrils.
"Cilantro. Isn't it heavenly?"
Frankly, I'd smelled sweat socks with a nicer bouquet. But I forced another nature-loving grin.
Shooting one last tender glance at her "angels," she resumed our tour, leading me out of the garden to the pool area at the rear of the house.
The pool was a vintage beauty, a turquoise gem bordered with vibrant Mexican tiles. Nearby, beneath the shade of a towering pine, a jacuzzi sent plumes of steam into the cool afternoon air.
Olga eyed a faded blonde who sat on a chaise reading a copy of People magazine, and said to me, "So far you and Ms. Kane are the only guests who've checked in. Let me introduce you.
"Hello, Cathy," she called out, leading me over to my spamate, who looked up from her People with pale blue eyes. From the extra padding she sported around her hip/thigh zone, I figured she was a fellow member of the Ben & Jerry Fan Club.
"I'd like you to meet our new arrival, Jaine Austen. This is Jaine's first trip to The Haven."
Cathy's eyes lit up.
"Really? Me, too! I've been dreaming about coming here for years, and at last I finally made it!" She gazed in awe at her bucolic surroundings. "You're going to just love everything, Jaine! Olga took me on the tour earlier. It's all so fabulous!"
At four hundred bucks a day, I thought, it darn well better be.
"See you later for cocktails, Cathy," Olga said. "Time to finish showing Jaine around."
And she was just about to lead me away, when a breathy voice trilled out behind us, "Yoo hoo! Olga, honey!"
We turned to see a stunning tawny-haired woman sweeping down the path with what looked like a fur muffler in her arms.
"Omigosh!" Cathy gasped, fanning herself with her People. "Isn't that Mallory Francis, the movie star?"
Olga's face clouded over.
"Well, she's not exactly a star," she muttered. "The woman hasn't been in a hit film in years."
True, but thanks to a series of high profile divorces and a centerfold in Playboy, Mallory Francis had been constant tabloid fodder and the star of many a Lifetime movie, not to mention her own highly-rated reality show, Mad About Mallory.
Like Cathy, I'd recognized her right away.
Now she came gliding over, a vision in tight white jeans and halter top, her creamy skin spray tanned to perfection.
Perched in the crook of her arms was not a muffler, after all, but a wiry Pekinese whose huge brown eyes glittered with malice.
"Olga, honey," Mallory cried. "So wonderful to see you! Armani," she prompted her pooch, "give Olga-Wolga a gweat big kiss."
The peke let out an ominous growl, baring a set of rather terrifying little fangs.
"Bad doggie," Mallory chided, her mouth puckered in mock disapproval.
Stifling what I was certain was a growl of her own, Olga managed a stiff smile. "Welcome back to The Haven, Mallory."
"So fabulous to be here." Mallory planted an air kiss somewhere in the general vicinity of Olga's cheek. "Don't worry about showing me to my suite. I can see you have your hands full with these two nobodies."
Okay, so she didn't really call us nobodies, but I could tell that's what she was thinking by the dismissive glance she'd shot in our direction.
"I'll have someone on your staff let me in," she said to Olga. "But I just couldn't check in without saying hello!"
She paused to look around.
"The place hasn't changed a bit. That's what I love about The Haven. Other spas are constantly making improvements, but The Haven stays the same year after year." She paused to finger a frayed piece of mesh on one of the pool chairs. "That's what makes it so charming."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but that was a bit of a dig, n'est-ce pas?
"I'm so happy you approve," Olga replied, icicles dripping from her voice.
I'd sensed friendlier vibes at a shark tank.
"Well, I'm off to my suite," Mallory chirped. "Send up an order of fresh mangoes, will you, hon? I've got the munchies."
And away she sailed, high heels clacking on the flagstones.
Cathy stared after her, slack-jawed.
"Omigosh!" she gasped. "I can't believe I get to spend a whole week with Mallory Francis!"
"Me, neither," Olga said with a weary sigh. "Me, neither."
The next stop on our itinerary was the Spa Therapy Center.
A squat box of a building, clearly built decades after the main house, it held a rabbit warren of massage rooms, separated down the middle by a narrow corridor. At one end of the corridor sat a large urn, which was where, according to Olga, The Haven's special muscle-relaxing tea—imported all the way from Tibet—was served daily.
Olga showed me one of the massage rooms, a no-frills affair featuring a massage table, supply cabinet, and—over in the corner of the room—a large metal vat. At first I thought it might be some kind of high-tech hamper.
But then Olga said, "That's where we keep the seaweed for our detoxifying seaweed wraps."
The only wraps I knew involved lunch meat and pita bread.
Excerpted from Pampered to Death by Laura Levine Copyright © 2011 by Laura Levine. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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I love Laura Levine's Books and this one was no exception! And I love that Prozac is back on the cover. If you get a chance you have to read her books they are laugh out loud funny and make you feel like your reading about your own family. Wondering what you would do with them if you were in her shoes.
Kept waiting for this book to get better.
Ms. Levine has done it again! Talk about hilarious. The readers are back with Jaine Austen - the wonderful writer who spends her time 'penning' brochures about septic systems and making brochures for plumbers. And we are all back with her adorably pompous cat named Prozac! Jaine has been gifted with a certificate for a free week at a posh spa in California (a gift form her next door neighbor whose butt she saved in the last novel. J) Of course, it's not until she arrives that Jaine realizes this is a diet spa, where she will be living on 300 calories a day, working out, and stuck most of the time in smelly seaweed wraps. Prozac is not happy either, seeing as that his real food has been taken away from him and he's looking at a kitty diet that may just cost the owner her lovely pond full of koi. Jaine is not only starving, but she has to deal with other guests who are driving her nuts. One is a woman named Cathy Kane, who has been saving up her whole life to come here. She works at the Piggly Wiggly back home, and practically jumps out of her chair when a famous tabloid star - Mallory Francis - walks through the door like a Queen. Surrounding this Playboy covergirl are her snooty stylist, who is an absolute leach because Mallory is giving him money to open his own salon; a young lady, Kendra, who is not only Mallory's personal assistant but also her bitter sister; and in walks Clint Matthews - a very A-list movie superstar who has a very 'ugly' secret that only Mallory knows about - and she will be writing her 'tell-all' book very soon. Suffice to say the fantastic humor evolves around these 'laugh-out-loud' characters. While Jaine tries to smuggle cat food and cookies into the spa in her camouflage pants, the rest seem to be having their own difficulties. Including Olga, the Nazi-esque owner of the spa who has a "connection" to Mallory that no one knows. Add in a maid who sells candy bars at $50 a pop to the starving guests to increase her income; two aerobics teachers who supposedly love each other, but one likes to cheat; and, a teenager named Kevin who is the chef at "Chez Starvation" who wants nothing more than to work at Applebee's one day - and you are falling off your chair! When Mallory is found dead on the massage table, Jaine finds herself embedded up to her seaweed-covered eyebrows in a crime scene! And, while all this is going on, Jaine Austen is also having to deal with emails from her mother and father regarding gnomes, and her father's antics as he runs for office at their retirement community. I have not laughed this hard in years!!! There is no author better at giving you humor wrapped in a completely unsolvable mystery! Bravo!!!
After Jaine Austen gets next door neighbor, Lance Venable off the hook for a murder rap, he surprises her with a gift of an all-expense paid week at "The Haven " Spa (which is supposed to be the "crème de la crème" of spas) for both Jaine and her spoiled feline companion, Prozac. Jaine had envisioned a luxurious week of pampering from head to toes, fantastic dining and a chance to completely relax and unwind. Imagine her surprise when the Spa and its "services" are not at all like she expected, especially the shock of a 900 calories a day diet! You will be introduced (as Jaine was) to a zany group of guests and staff; Olga Truitt; the hard-nosed owner/operator who wears many hats over her gray braid to try to make the spa run smoothly, chatty, Piggly-Wiggly bagger; Cathy Kane, aging starlet; Mallory Francis with her snarly Peke "Armani", Mallory's personal hair Stylist; Harvy, Mallory's personal assistant as well as dowdy sister; Kendra , A-List hunky movie star; Clint Masters plus "The Haven Staff" -Shawna and Sven; the aerobics Instructors and Delphine; the enterprising maid. As Jaine counts down the hours until she is free from this "Diet Hell" and its improvement programs, Mallory is discovered strangled to death by seaweed in her spa cubicle! Everyone casts suspicious looks at each other, Jaine included, who dons her part-time P.I. cap and searches for clues herself. Her private investigation is punctuated by hilarious emails from her Mom and Dad, detailing her Dad's "Save the Gnomes" Presidential Campaign. Who could have done this dastardly deed?? Clint? Whose career could be destroyed? Shawna? The misused and forgiving wife of Sven? Harvy? Whose dream of his own beauty salon might end up to be a pipe-dream? Kendra? Who is tired of living in her sister's and sometimes even Armani the dog's shadow? Or Olga, tired of the guest abuse she endures. Every time you think you have this solved, Ms. Levine throws a curve ball. Will Jaine find love in a very unexpected place? Will you ever look at a lawn gnome again without chuckling? You'll love following Jaine's escapades and I bet you hope (as I do), that there is another Jaine Austen adventure coming soon. This was a very easy, thoroughly enjoyable read. Nancy Narma
To thank his next door neighbor for proving he did not commit a murder (see Death of a Trophy Wife), Lance Venerable pays for copywriter Jaine Austen and her cat Prozac to stay at the luxurious The Haven spa north of Los Angeles. However, the description of fancy does not quire fit as it is much smaller than Jaine expected and the towels showcase a bit of wear. The worst is a 900 calories a day starvation diet rigidly adhered to by spa owner Nazi Olga though Jaine bribes Delphine the maid into bringing her a pastrami. The other guests include loquacious Cathy Kane who horded chump change for years to come here; spoiled B-level film star Mallory Francis who drives everyone including the storm-trooper and her staff crazy with her demands; and her unhappy retinue (Mallory's sister Kendra, her hairstylist Harvey, her former costar Clint, and her acrimonious Pekingese Armani) who want to return to civilization. Mango Mallory's perpetual orders end when someone strangles her with seaweed. However, the homicide police quarantines everyone at the Haven. Going broke at thirty bucks a sandwich and tired of the so-called pampering (not), Jaine who has solved cases (see Killing Bridezilla) investigates before she dies of malnutrition. The tenth Jaine Austen amateur sleuth is an engaging tongue in cheek (no food in the way) whodunit in which the clues to the homicide are spread like a buffer throughout the story line. The characters are entertainingly eccentric (that is to the armchair reader, but not to starving despondent Jaine). Although the inquisition lacks the subtly of previous cases with it's in your face technique, fans will enjoy Pampered to Death. Harriet Klausner
Pampered to Death is the second novel I've read by Levine and I have to say, I love her style. The first person dialogue along with the emails that she receives from her parents crack me up! I'd love to see a novel of Janie going to FL to visit with her parents and see what would progress! Janie's friend gifts her a week stay at The Haven, a "swellegant spa for the rich and famous." However, poor Janie wasn't informed that it this is a spa to help the clients lose weight. After six plus hours of driving, she arrives starving, and she assumed it would serve excellent five course meals; instantly Janie is miserable at The Haven when she finds out what her friend has done, as is Prozac, her spastic cat. She realizes that the diet Nazi Olga is going to keep her on a strict 900 calories a day diet, as well as Prozac. Famous Mallory soon arrives and is a total witch to all around her. She feels that since she was, at one point, famous that all should stoop and kiss her feet, but Janie doesn't play Mallory's game. Mallory is soon killed off and the guests at The Haven are not permitted to leave until they find the killer. Therefore, Janie puts herself into the detective shoes and is on a mission to find out who killed Mallory in order to leave to woof down a couple pastrami sandwiches. Levine's use of first person is excellent; it pulls you into the story, making you feel as if you are right there, being told the story! She doesn't pull any stops when it comes to how plus size people feel, yet adds humor to the feelings! I have thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will recommend it to other friends!