"I'm crazy about Laura Levine's mystery series. Her books are so outrageously funny." Joanne Fluke
Smarmy personals ads. Daring declarations of love. Freelance writer Jaine Austen has penned them all. But no one needs her help more than geeky, gawky Howard Murdoch. His request is simple enough: a letter proclaiming his undying love for Stacy Lawrence, a gorgeous aerobics instructor. The fact that he's never actually met the woman gives Jaine pauseyet she soon overcomes her misgivings, and the unlikely Romeo lands a date! But his triumph is short-lived. On Valentine's Day, Howard finds Stacy bludgeoned to death with a Thigh Masterand is quickly named the prime suspect.
Jaine is shocked. Sure, Howard's awkward and eccentric. But a murderer? That's hard to believe. Especially after a little sleuthing reveals a plethora of people who harbored less-than-loving feelings towards the svelte Stacy. Now Jaine had better wrangle her clues quickly, before a crafty killer catches onand puts a whole new spin on her ghost writing career. . .
"Sheer fun!" Carolyn Hart
About the Author
Laura Levine is a comedy writer whose television credits include The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, The Love Boat, The Jeffersons, Three's Company, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Her work has been published in The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. She lives in Los Angeles, and is currently working on the next Jaine Austen mystery. Readers can reach her at Jaineausten@aol.com, or her website: www.JaineAustenMysteries.com.
Read an Excerpt
This Pen for Hire
A Jaine Austen Mystery
By LAURA LEVINE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2002 Laura Levine
All rights reserved.
When I wrote that letter for Howard, I hoped it would get him a date. I never dreamed it would get him arrested for murder.
I suppose I should tell you how Howard and I first met.
I'd just stepped out of the shower one unseasonably warm February day, when I heard a soft scratching at the front door, like a dog pawing to be let in. I slipped into my pink silk kimono and padded across the living room, fluffing my hair en route.
I opened the door and saw that it was not a dog, but a human being. One of my clients. A first timer. This one was a geeky guy with slicked-down hair and white socks, a veritable poster boy for pocket protectors.
He stared down at my welcome mat, clearly embarrassed.
"It's fifty dollars an hour, right?"
"That's right," I said.
"I've never done anything like this before," he mumbled.
"That's okay," I said, ushering him inside. "There's nothing to be ashamed of. Take off your jacket and relax."
No, I'm not a prostitute. I'm a writer, which in Los Angeles is often the same thing. My name is Jaine Austen (my mother is an Anglophile, and a bad speller), and I run a writing service out of my apartment called This Pen for Hire. Catchy, isn't it? I used to come up with catchy names all the time back when I worked in advertising, before I woke up one morning and decided I no longer wanted to spend the rest of my life writing stories that ended in the words "void where prohibited by law."
I write resumes. Letters. Brochures. And Personals ads. Lots of Personals ads. Maybe you've read my latest? "Rap Papa Seeks Acrobatic Mama."
I don't usually greet clients in a kimono, but Howard Murdoch was a full hour early for his appointment. He'd called me that morning, having read my ad in the Yellow Pages. He told me that he needed me to write a letter.
I left him perched on the edge of a chair in the living room while I went to change into my official work clothes: elastic-waist pants and a T-shirt.
I came out from my bedroom to find him still precariously balanced at the edge of the chair. One stiff wind and he'd be history.
"C'mon," I said, leading him into my office suite, otherwise known as my dining room.
"Have a seat," I said, gesturing to the dining table. Howard started for a chair, and I screeched in dismay.
"Hey! Don't sit on my Prozac."
I scooped my cat Prozac off the chair Howard was about to sit in and tossed her in the kitchen. She glared at me balefully, then got revenge by leaping on top of the dryer, onto a pile of freshly folded laundry.
I turned to Howard and smiled my most encouraging smile.
"So. You said over the phone that you wanted me to write a letter for you?"
He blinked, as if hearing this news for the first time.
"You did want me to write a letter, didn't you?"
He picked at a scab on his knuckle. "That's right."
"What kind of letter? A consumer complaint? The airlines lose your luggage?" (I get a lot of those.)
"No." He was staring down at my hardwood floors, avoiding my glance.
"Look, Howard. I can't write a letter for you if you don't tell me what it's about."
He mumbled something to one of the grooves in my hardwood floor. It sounded something like "luvveter. "
At last, he looked up at me.
"A love letter. I want you to write a love letter."
The words "You have a girlfriend?" shot out of my mouth before I could stop myself. "I mean, you have a girlfriend! How nice!" I added quickly, hoping he hadn't noticed my momentary lack of couth.
"Oh. Is it a boyfriend? Nothing wrong with that.
Not at all."
"No, no. It's a girl. It's just that she's not my girlfriend. In fact, I've never actually spoken to her. But I know that I love her. With all my heart and soul."
Oh, jeez. I smiled woodenly. My first stalker.
"So. Tell me. Who is she, this love of yours?"
He whipped out a ragged newspaper clipping from his wallet and thrust it at me.
"Her name," he said reverently, "is Stacy."
I looked down at a picture of a lethal blonde in a black leotard. The caption read, "S. Lawrence Named New Sports Club Aerobics Instructor."
"She teaches aerobics at my gym."
Guys are amazing, aren't they? You take your average geeky woman. Sure, she may fantasize about Tom Cruise, but does she actually expect to wind up dating him? Of course not. She knows she's going to wind up with a guy named Norm with love handles and hairy knuckles. Men, on the other hand, are totally delusional. I'll bet there are thousands of short, fat, bald guys convinced they could be dating Heather Locklear if only they knew her phone number.
I looked down at the blonde in the clipping, with her hard-as-nails eyes, deep tan, and perfect body. Poor Howard didn't stand a chance.
"Look, Howard. I'm not so sure it's a wise idea to write a love letter to someone you don't even know."
"It doesn't have to be a love letter, exactly. I want you to write her something that will make her want to date me."
You want a miracle? I thought. Go to Lourdes.
"How about I write you a resume instead? You happy at yourjob?"
But he wasn't budging. "I want you to write a letter to Stacy."
"Okay," I said, forcing a smile, "tell me a little about yourself."
He stared at me blankly.
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm an insurance adjuster."
Ouch. Not much excitement there.
"I watch TV a lot."
"Well," he said, obviously saving the best for last, "Mom and I collect chopsticks from Chinese restaurants."
I sighed deeply. I knew I had to turn down the job. It wouldn't be fair to take Howard's money for something I knew would never work out. If there's one thing I pride myself on, it's my integrity.
"Look, Howard. This isn't going to work."
"I'll pay you triple your usual fee."
I reached for my pad and pen.
"Is that Stacy with a 'y' or an 'ie'?"CHAPTER 2
Okay, so I was a little low on integrity that week. I had bills to pay, and a costly Frappucino habit to support.
It's not cheap living in Beverly Hills. Not even when you live, like I do, on the wrong side of the tracks, south of Wilshire Boulevard. Wilshire is the dividing line in Beverly Hills. North of Wilshire, you're rich. South of Wilshire, you're not. And I'm south of Wilshire. So south, I'm practically in Mexico.
I live on a quiet tree-lined street dotted with duplexes. I've got a one-bedroom apartment with a working fireplace, hardwood floors, and an enviable location just up the street from a Starbucks. On the down side, there's the rent (high), the traffic (often impossible), and my neighbor Lance Venable (always impossible).
Lance lives next to me in the front unit of our duplex. A natty dresser with a headful of tight blond curls, Lance works at Neiman Marcus, selling ladies' shoes. I guess when you spend your days cramming bunions into Ferragamos you're bound to be a bit cranky.
The trouble with Lance is he's got Superman-quality hearing. The man hears sounds even dogs can't hear. Someone flushes the toilet in Pomona, and Lance hears it. Needless to say, Lance hears just about everything I do in my apartment. He hears my phone, he hears my hair dryer, he claims he can hear Prozac meowing to be fed. The only thing he doesn't hear are the sounds of me having sex in the bedroom. Mainly because there aren't any. But that's a whole other story. One I'd be glad to tell you about if I weren't already in the middle of telling you about Howard, the lovesick goofball.
When Howard left my apartment that afternoon, I knew I was deep into Mission Impossible territory. I noodled around on my computer for a while, trying to think what I could possibly write that would lure Stacy out on a date with Howard. The best I could come up with was:
"Dear Stacy, If you go out with me, I'll give you a million dollars. Yours sincerely, Howard Murdoch."
And frankly, I wasn't sure even that would work.
After an hour or two of intense thought, and seventeen trips to the refrigerator to see if anything interesting had shown up since the last time I looked, I came up with exactly nothing. So I put Howard's file aside and went back to work on a resume I'd been writing for a recent college graduate who'd majored in Parties and was now trying to give the impression that he'd actually attended some of his classes. It wasn't easy, but it was a damn sight easier than Howard.
At about six o'clock, I was interrupted by Prozac, wailing for her dinner. Poor darling hadn't eaten for at least an hour. I know I shouldn't give in to her constant demands for food, and every day I vow I'm going to limit her intake to just five meals a day, but I always wind up giving in after just a few pitiful meows.
After feeding Prozac her Savory Mackerel Feast, I hurried into the shower. I had a dinner date that night, and I wanted to look good.
I was in the middle of blow-drying my hair, trying to torture my natural curls into a sleek Jennifer Aniston do, when Lance started banging on the wall.
"Keep it down in there!"
I gritted my teeth and turned the dryer down to "low," wondering if I could possibly afford a hit man to puncture Lance's eardrums.
I got myself all gussied up in a pair of Ann Taylor slacks, J. Crew sweater, and K mart Control Top Pantyhose. I checked myself out in the mirror and saw that my freshly straightened hair was already beginning to frizz. In less than ten minutes, I'd gone from Jennifer Aniston to Shirley Temple. Just the look I was aiming for: a thirty-six-year-old moppet.
Oh, well. There was nothing I could do. If I didn't hurry, I'd be late for my date. I grabbed my purse and bent down to kiss Prozac good-bye. She licked my neck hungrily, no doubt searching for cat food hidden behind my ears.
Then I headed out the door, with a spring in my step, a curl in my hair, and mackerel-scented saliva on my neck.
I walked into the trendy restaurant on Melrose. You know the kind of place: where all the waiters are actors, and the pesto flows like water. I looked around the room. A handsome guy in a black turtleneck sweater and wire-rimmed glasses waved from his table. Unfortunately, he wasn't waving at me, but at the stunning redhead behind me.
I headed over to where Kandi was sitting, waiting for me.
Kandi Tobolowski is an ex-New Yorker with enviably straight hair and a great sense of humor (which comes in handy when you're saddled with a name like Kandi Tobolowsky).
I guess you could say Kandi is my best friend. We met five years ago at a UCLA screenwriting class. I'd just been through a messy divorce (are there any other kind?) and was looking for a way to stretch my creative muscles. Oh, who am I kidding? I was looking for a way to get out of my apartment one night a week.
Kandi had just moved out to L.A. from New York, determined to make it in show biz. I've always been drawn to New Yorkers. I like their edge, their impatience, their chutzpah. Most of all, I like the fact that they never tell me to Have a Nice Day.
So when I saw Kandi in class that first night of the summer session, tapping her feet impatiently and muttering, "Jeez, it's like a sauna in here," I plopped down next to her.
Our instructor was a bloated man with a greasy ponytail who spent most of the semester trashing our scripts and flirting with a sexy blonde in the first row. Not that I blamed him for flirting. The blonde was one heck of a good-looking guy.
One night the instructor was energetically trashing some poor shnook's script, something the shnook had clearly been writing and rewriting for most of his adult life. Kandi, glaring at the instructor with disgust, scribbled a note and handed it to me. It said, "Quelle asshole."
I knew then that Kandi was Best Friend material.
I made my way across the crowded restaurant and joined Kandi at a prized table she'd staked out by the window. She jumped up and hugged me happily. "Guess what, honey? I've met Mr. Right."
That's the crazy thing about Kandi. You'd think, coming from the mean streets of New York, she'd know the score about men. You'd think she'd have figured out by now that guys are like parking spaces (all the good ones are taken). But no, each time Kandi meets a new man, she's convinced she's met Mr. Right.
"Didn't you just meet Mr. Right last month?" I asked. "The crazy dentist, who took you out for dinner at the beach and then threatened to throw you off the Santa Monica pier?"
"That's ancient history. Wait'll you see this one. He's perfect. Just look at his fact sheet."
Kandi belongs to Foto-Date, one of those dating services that hands out fact sheets on prospective dates, listing all their vital statistics (none of which are verified), what they're looking for in a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and how they like to spend their free time (forget "romantic dinners" and "moonlight strolls on the beach"—what they really want is nonstop sex and dinner at your place).
I glanced down at the fact sheet.
"See? He's a doctor! In Beverly Hills! And look at his picture! Doesn't he look just like Antonio Banderas?"
I blinked in disbelief. Good heavens. He did look just like Antonio Banderas.
"He sounds too good to be true, doesn't he?"
"That should be a warning, Kandi."
"Oh, don't be such a worrywart. He's taking me to dinner. To a seafood place. Right on the beach."
"Better bring a life vest."
If I sound cynical, it's because I am. Three years with The Blob can do that to a gal. I call my ex-husband The Blob. And that's one of my more charitable nicknames.
I met The Blob at a coffeehouse in Santa Monica. He was writing the Great American Novel. With his dark, brooding eyes straight out of an El Greco painting, I thought he was the sensitive artist of my dreams. So, throwing caution—and my vibrator—to the winds, I married the guy.
Actually our marriage was great. It was the living together afterward that sucked. His Great American Novel turned out to be more like the Great American Paragraph. True, he spent endless hours at the computer. Most of them, I was eventually to discover, on the "Hot Babes in Thong Underwear" website. After a while, he abandoned his novel and retired to the sofa, where he proceeded to grow roots. When we finally divorced, I had to have the TV remote surgically removed from the palm of his hand.
"I'm starved," said Kandi, scarfing down the last of the focaccia bread. We looked around for our waiter and spotted him fawning over people clearly more important than us. Kandi finally managed to catch his eye.
"Oh, actor!" she called out. "We'd like some menus, please."
"Great," I groaned. "Now he's going to spit in our food."
"Don't be silly. They like it when you kid around."
Our waiter, a pretty young man with eyelashes to die for, stomped over to our table and hurled some menus in our general direction.
"Yeah, right. He's crazy about us."
Kandi waved away my sarcasm with a breadstick. "Honey," she said, "I've got fabulous news. Skip said he'd take a meeting with you. So think up some ideas for the cockroach."
In the five years since our UCLA course, Kandi had landed a job as a staff writer on Beanie & the Cockroach, a Saturday morning cartoon show about a short-order cook named Beanie who has a pet cockroach named Fred.
"I'm sorry, Kandi, but if I live to be a hundred, I won't have story ideas for a cockroach."
"It's easy. Come on. We'll brainstorm." She swiped a piece of focaccia from a passing busboy and chewed it thoughtfully. "I know. What if the cockroach starts dating a termite, and his mother is furious at him for dating out of his species? Or what if Beanie takes the cockroach with him on a fancy catering job, and highjinks ensue when the snooty guests find Fred on the salmon mousse?"
I smiled woodenly.
Compared to the cockroach, writing that letter for Howard suddenly didn't seem so bad.
Excerpted from This Pen for Hire by LAURA LEVINE. Copyright © 2002 Laura Levine. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Memo to self... Do not drink anything while reading this saucy book. Do not read this book while in public due to outrageous fits of laughter that will bubble up & the next vacation you take will be @ the LoOnY Tunes Ranch : 0. Be prepared for the looks, stares, gazes & head shaking you will receive as your family, friends & strangers finally realize you have officially gone off the deep end. Be prepared to have tears flow endlessly from laughing hysterically. Warning... Reading this book will spoil you & you will crave more. Oh, yeah, don't forget the chocolate ; 9. Laura Levine knocked it right out of the box w/ her quick witted, smartly paced debut. This Pen for Hire is brimming with humor. Meet Jaine Austen ~ her mom's not too big on spelling . Jaine is one of the most down-to-earth & utterly charming amateur detectives to come along in a long time. Laura Levine created not only an appealing, crafty, brassy, character ~ she hit the nail & penned a fun, fast~paced mystery that is laugh~out~loud funny!!! Laura has an invigorating knack for writing in a style that gives the impression that Jaine is personally talking to you. Love that!!! Laura's clever narration is unquestionably refreshing!!! I love how Jaine often shares what she wishes she could say. Her communication w/ her parents is definitely a side-splitting adventure. And her imagined conversations with Prozac are uproarious. Jaine is such a magnetic heroine, it won't be long before you become absorbed in her endless high jinks. Jaine's best friend Kandi is a blast. Jaine's neighbor Lance is riotous. Her cat Prozac is priceless. Jaine Austen is definitely a character you'll love. Laura Levine is a keeper. I adore this series so much it is a must to have the moment it hits the shelves. I pre~order all of her books. The only thing I don't like about this darling series is I have to wait a year for the next Jaine & Prozac adventure. : /. Grrr... Oh, How I long to have a character named after moi ; p ... Don't miss out on this.
Read in April, 2012Read for Fun!Overall Rating: 3.75Story Rating: 3.50Character Rating: 4.00First Thought When Finished: What a fun read!What I Loved: Note to self: don't write love letters for others unless you want to be in the middle of a very fun mystery. Jaine Austen was such a cute character. She was sassy, fun, and kind of a mess. Her dating life sucks. Her career is a little unusual. Her neighbor is nosy. Her best friend was a total riot. All in all she was just fun to watch stumble through things. She was a hot mess as she tried to figure out how to get a nerdy client that she wrote a love letter for out of jail. It was just downright fun!What I Liked: The mystery was quirky and fun. Though it wasn't hard to figure out who was guilty. I find that is pretty much standard in cozy mysteries. It was fun to unravel the case through Jaine's eyes. There were a few twists and turns with the characters that I thought were really well done.What made me go huh?: I wanted a little more of the detective in the story though I think we will see more of him in the future. I also wanted more of her best friend--she was a riot!Final Thought: This is a perfect summer afternoon cozy mystery read!
This book was just ok for me. It was a fast read, but almost a cheesy book. I didn't care much for the reference of the main character's weight, I think it was repetitive in that respect. The story plot a familiar one, although the ending was a surprise as to whom the murder really was.
This book was a really fun, quick read. A great way to unwind at the end of the day. I will probably continue to read the rest of the series.
I had read a novella by Levine in The Candy Cane Murders and had liked it well enough that I thought I would pick up the first in Levine's series featuring Jaine Austen. It sat around in a to be read pile for a long time, and when I noticed that the murder was committed on Valentine's Day, which was coming up, I decided to take it out and read it. It was a fast read, taking only about four hours from start to finish. I found myself laughing because of the main character's humor and the manner in which the author gave us insight into what Jaine was thinking. However, Jaine proved to be a rather incompetent sleuth, casting her suspicion on person after person until she finally has it right. This is somewhat of a cross between chick lit and a cozy mystery. It's good for a quick light read, but I probably won't be reading others in the series.
I liked the idea of the story and would consider reading the rest of the series later, but I did not feel a connection to the characters. The main character was a little annoying and I felt that the author repeated herself a little too much. The author did try to make this book funny, but, in some places I felt that she tried a little to hard.
Very thin plot and writing, even for a chick-lit. I thought it would be an acceptably pouffy read for an afternoon, but I just couldn't engage any sort of emotion for the characters. Humour was occasionally actually funny. Also, unexpected ending-twist? Hardly.
I really like Jaine Austen. She is daring, funny, and determined. She really stood up for Howard and did not stop until he was free. I liked the surprise ending. I never suspected Cameron was the murderer. I have to read more books about Jaine.
Freelance writer Jaine Austen takes on the job of writing a love note for a desperate young man. Then the object of his desire is killed and he is accused of the crime. Can Jaine free him? This is the first in a very funny mystery series. Light and fun. If that's the kind of mystery you enjoy, this is right up your ally.
Loved it as Ilove all her books
I enjoyed this book, though I knew who done it within the first few chapters. Jaine is pretty funny and the characters in the book are easy to like. I will be reading another one!
I have read all of the Jaine Austen books and loved them all. Laura Levine brings the characters to life and makes a very entertaining read
I absolutely loved this book. I loved Jaine, her thought process had me laughing more times than I can remember. I love when I can laugh with a story, even a murder mystery. The characters were real and believable. The mystery had me guessing until the end...I never saw it coming. I loved the antics with her cat Prozac, great name. I am definately continuing on with this series.
Very quick read - clever writing - some lines made me laugh out loud. Looking forward to more in the series. Actually found this author on The Big Bang Theory - book was staged on a bookshelf in one of the shows and I looked her up to see if it was a real author. Turns out she is - and very quick witted as well.
This was a great funny read. My first read by her. I will start her second one today. This was an easy read
Love this series of books! Laura Levine is very good at what she does. Her self-deprecating humor is delightful to read. I'll be reading all of her books.
I did not care for this book at all and will not be buying any others by this author. It is filled with crude, disgusting humor from beginning to end. Also, the story and mindless characters did not hold my attention, only finished it because I paid for it, then deleted it immediately!
Great little cozy mystery. Quick read. Buying the next in series now!
The author has an easy to read, light writing style. I'd say this is a good "beach" read. There is only about 160 reading pages so it is easy to get through. I'm not sure I'm in love with her protagonist. There are times when I wish she'd show more backbone. I don't like characters that let others walk all over them. I'd say buy it if you want a quick light-hearted book. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to buy the next one...