There’s something very comfortable

about a good mystery series.  Barring some fit of marketing madness on the part of the author, you pretty much know what you’re getting: a new story in a style you enjoy, with a protagonist you care enough to revisit.  The mystery genre is built on series, more, I think, than any other.

I’ve just finished reading the tenth installement in Elaine Viets‘ Dead-End Jobs series, Pumped for Murder.  Helen Hawthorne has worked at one miserable job after another through the series, and this time she’s a receptionist at a fitness club.  For the first several books in the series she was on the run, hiding out in Fort Lauderdale, working at minimum wage or below to stay off the books and under the radar.  She’s worked at a resale shop, a doggy boutique, and a book store.  She’s cleaned hotel rooms and worked as a telemarketer.  She’s on the run because . . . well, finding that out is part of the fun.  And that aspect of her life moves from one disaster to another through the series.  Whenever it looks like Helen’s problems have finally been solved, something worse turns up.

Elaine Viets has actually worked at the dreadful jobs she sends Helen off to, which adds another layer to the books.  Mystery readers love a good background, an occupation or community we might otherwise never visit.  For many readers the Fort Lauderdale setting, Helen’s homebase at the Coronado Tropic Apartments, is another exotic element, but I grew up in South Florida.  Even though I haven’t lived there in decades, I still recognize the place.

And by the way, Viets’ other series, set in her hometown of St. Louis, is also on my read-right-away list.  It features Josie Marcus, a single mom sharing a duplex with her critical but supportive mother and her precocious ten-yer-old daughter, making a sometimes shaky living as a Mystery Shopper.  Each book investigates a new area of retail sales, and each includes a few pages of the shopping tips Viets picks up in her research.

I look forward to every installment of the Dead-End Jobs and Mystery Shopper series.  The books don’t stay on my To Be Read pile for more than a few days.  They are fast paced and funny, full of quirky regulars and guests, and always entertaining.

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