Catnapped! is the latest installment in Elaine Viets’ delightful Dead-End Jobs Mystery series. I’ve been a fan since Helen Hawthorne solved her first case in Shop till You Drop (2003), and Catnapped! did not disappoint me.
The detective work in Catnapped! involves two murders and, of course, a kidnapped cat (a four-month old Chartreux kitten), all good mysteries, but much of the charm of this series rests with the recurring cast and setting.
When the series started, Helen was struggling to survive as a newcomer to Fort Lauderdale, working cash-under-the-table jobs and living under the radar to avoid her deadbeat ex-husband and his unjust but legal claim on half her income. Over the course of the series she has settled her old problems and married Phil Sagemont, with whom she now operates Coronado Investigations, and these days she works those awful jobs in the course of their cases. In Catnapped!, she works for a cantankerous cat breeder, washing cats and their litter boxes (ten at a time!) for the princely sum of $8.04 an hour. Helen has been through a long string of fascinating (as long as someone else is doing them!) dead-end jobs, and Viets has worked most of them herself as research.
Besides Helen and Phil, the cast includes Margery Flax, the 70-something owner and live-in manager of the Coronado Tropic Apartments, a building nearly as old as she is, where Helen landed when she arrived in South Florida from her former up-scale life in St. Louis. In Catnapped!, the past catches up with Margery in the form of the ex-husband Helen never knew about and the possible destruction of the Coronado by old age and rusted rebar.
I grew up in South Florida, decades ago, and Viets’ descriptions of life at the Coronado and the changing landscape of Fort Lauderdale always makes me a bit nostalgic. On the other hand, Helen’s adventures among the Persian cats at Chatwood’s Champions makes me grateful for my low-maintenance rescue cat.
I’m a little bit behind on Viets’ other series, starring Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper, but I recently read Death on a Platter (I have two more waiting on the never-empty shelves of unread books). In Death on a Platter, Josie witnesses a death-by-poisoning while mystery shopping restaurants specializing in St. Louis delicacies such as toasted ravioli, pig ear sandwiches, brain sandwiches and gooey butter cake. As always, she has help from her friend Alyce, and domestic challenges from her daughter Amelia and her mother (and landlady) Jane.
The Mystery Shopper books always include a “Shopping Tips” section covering Josie’s current assignment. In Death on a Platter, you will learn some remarkable things about St. Louis foods and restaurants. If I didn’t live so far away, I’d be checking them out for myself. (Well, maybe not the brain sandwiches. But the gooey butter cake sure sounds good.)
If you enjoy humor and great characters with your mysteries, you’ll enjoy any of Elaine Viets’ books.