Everybody's bumped into the chick-lit mysteries -- they usually have an artful looking body, a sexy woman, and fluff between the covers.
And they get a thorough skewering in "Death and the Lit Chick," the second of G.M. Malliet's mysteries featuring Detective Chief Inspector St. Just. Malliet spins together a clever little mystery with some clever turns of phrase (a creepy little man is referred to as being "oily like undercooked salmon"), but she stumbles a bit on the characterization -- especially of the Required Love Interest.
Kimberlee Kalder has become the darling of the Deadly Dagger publishing house, with her bestselling "Dying For a Latte" chick-lit/mystery. She's also completely arrogant, hinting herself to be superior to Jane Austen, George Eliot and Edith Wharton.
But jealousy starts roiling when St. Just attends a mystery convention at a remote Scottish castle, where Kimberlee's success and arrogant attitude start rubbing people the wrong way. So it's not exactly a huge shock when, during a power outage, someone finds Kimberlee dead in the bottle dungeon.
So now St. Just must interview the people there, and find what motive (other than professional jealousy) might have prompted murder... all while getting distracted by the comely rising star, Portia De'Ath. And he starts getting a pretty good idea of the kind of person Kimberlee was, and the nasty secrets connected to her -- schemes, affairs, old muckraking, and other fun details -- just in time for another murder.
Apparently G.M. Malliet's series has a "theme" -- murder mysteries set around murder mystery writers, which admittedly is kind of a limited field. But she has some fun with "Death and the Lit Chick," mostly in aptly lampooning the publishing industry's rivalries, flaws and backstabbing. Not to mention skewering the trend of writing chick-lit books with a lightweight murder mystery and/or industry whining.
And Malliet does a pretty good job making a cozy weekend murder in an old castle, with some lovely descriptions ("its dark drum tower and arrow-slit turrets starkly outlined against a blue-moonstone sky") and clever phrases ("she didn't half stand out like a Viking at a luau"). It really is difficult to figure out who the murderer is, since there are plenty of suspects and an ever-increasing pile of motives, but he sprinkles some decent clues along the way.
And there's some valiant efforts at flashing out St. Just's personality, with some haunting grief about his late wife gumming up the works early on. Unfortunately he's too instantly infatuated by the cutesy-named Portia De'Ath, and too willing to dismiss the possibility that a woman he's just met (who seems intent on horning into police procedure) could be guilty.
Fortunately the supporting characters are a little steadier -- Malliet has fun with the hard-as-nails ex-agent and future agent/boyfriend, geek hubby, flamboyant Barbra Cartlandesque bestseller of yesteryear, and rivals ranging from an explosive arrogant thriller-writer to a frumpy nonentity.
"Death and the Lit Chick" has a big flaw in St. Just's instant infatuation with Portia, but the rest of the novel is a pleasant, vaguely cozy mystery (with more than a hint of publishing satire).