Oh what a perfect book for independent booksellers to revel in. The action takes place in a chain store, albeit a small one in Florida, but still oddly reminiscent of the local B&N. And why is that? Because Ms. Viets, the author of the Dead End Job series, worked at the notorious chain store undercover, ha, as it were, researching for the novel.
That is one of the more amazing aspects of this series. The premise behind the Dead End Job books requires Helen Hawthorne, the protagonist, to earn her living at off the books types of employment, due to a little incident back home in which she smashed her cheating husband’s car with a golf club, and will mostly likely be sued for support by said deadbeat mate, and perhaps imprisoned for if caught while on the run.
So, Ms. Viets, works at each dead end job researching for real, what it is like to be trapped in one unfulfilling job after another. In the series opener, Helen works for a snooty boutique, so did Viets. In another, Helen is forced to become a telemarketer, something Ms. Viets could stand doing for just a short period of time–and who can blame her? Other thankless jobs include: a high end grooming salon, working as a hotel maid (hint–never drink the complimentary coffee–you DON’T want to know what unhappy employees add to it, and of course, her stint in a real Barnes and Noble for Murder Between The Covers.
Helen lives in a Florida apartment complex with a character of a landlady, a 6 toed cat, and a mysterious pot smoking neighbor.
The humor and intelligent prose is fast paced, entertaining and full of acerbic looks at the various individuals who populate work places and the Florida area in general. There are few writers that can equal Ms. Viets quick wit and laugh out loud situations.
Here’s a sample:
“Helen, where the hell are you?” The creep used the intercom, so everyone heard.
“I’m in the back, stripping,” she said. Now they all heard her reply.
“I don’t care what you’re doing, get out here,” he said. “Now.”
Helen Hawthorne quit stripping, and wished she could start ripping.
She wanted to rip out the black heart of Page Turner III with her bare hands. He knew where she was. He also knew she couldn’t complain when he played his little games. He was Page Turner, literary light and owner of Page Turners, the book chain with his name.
Page was a multimillionaire, but not because of the three bookstores. The real family fortune came from mundane moneymakers such as pancake houses and muffler shops.
Page ran the bookstores because he had the same name as the founder. That was all Page had in common with his book-loving grandfather. The current Page Turner couldn’t sell a book to a boatload of bibliophiles.
Helen flung open the stockroom door, expecting to see Page Turner. Instead, she collided with Mr. Davies, the store’s oldest inhabitant. Mr. Davies showed up every morning at nine, when the store opened, and stayed until it closed at midnight. He brought two peanut butter sandwiches, one for lunch and one for dinner, and drank the free ice water in the cafe. All day long, he read books. He bought one paperback a month, when his Social Security check arrived.
Helen liked him. He was as much a fixture as the shelves and chairs. Mr. Davies was a small gray squirrel of a man, with big yellow teeth and inquisitive brown eyes. Now those eyes were bright with disappointment.
“You’re dressed,” the old man said.
“Of course I’m dressed,” Helen said. “What did you think I was doing in there?”
“Stripping,” he said, hopefully.
“I was stripping the covers off paperbacks,” she said.
Mr. Davies was more shocked than if she’d been stark naked.
“That’s terrible, a pretty girl like you mutilating books,” he said.
“I agree, sir,” Helen said.
Mr. Davies scurried off to his favorite reading chair, holding his book protectively, as if Helen might strip it, too.
Helen couldn’t tell Mr. Davies why she’d been stripping. She’d been dealing with yet another of Page’s mistakes. He’d bagged Jann Hickory Munn, the hot fiction writer, to sign at Page Turners on his national tour. But Page did no advertising, so six people came to Munn’s signing. Page was stuck with cases of books.
The unsold hardcovers were sent back. But most publishers didn’t want paperbacks returned. The shipping would cost more than the books.
Instead, their covers were stripped and counted like scalps. The author paid for Page’s miscalculation in lost royalties. Someone else always paid for Page’s mistakes.”
Familiar, right? Who hasn’t been caught stripping unawares? Besides the setting, the mystery is darn clever and the read a real blast. This is another one of those cases where I could have put any number of her books on the list, but Murder Between the Covers speaks to booksellers everywhere.