HWisecracking undertaker and amateur sleuth Hitchcock Sewell makes a welcome return in this second in Cockey's highly entertaining and well-written series. When the murdered corpse of Helen Waggoner is dumped on the front steps of Baltimore's Sewell & Sons Family Funeral Home, which Hitch runs with his Aunt Billie, it's especially perturbing because a wake is in progress. Hitch's new girlfriend, Bonnie Nash, an inept television weathergirl, convinces Hitch to help her make a career move to investigative reporter by finding out who killed Helen. Naturally, complications arise. Helen's young son, Bo, goes to live with her estranged sister, Vicki, who is being harassed by the boy's jailbird father. The search into Helen's background leads Hitch and Bonnie into the Baltimore netherworld of strip joints, prostitution and pornography. When an up-and-coming lawyer and the owner of a strip joint are murdered in a similar style, the investigation expands. The lawyer represented Dr. Richard Kingman, whose wake Helen's body interrupted, and Hitch discovers a connection between Helen and the Kingman family. As with Cockey's first Hitch Sewell mystery, The Hearse You Came In On (2000), the plot is circuitous, with Hitch and Bonnie making many incorrect assumptions as they work their way through this thoroughly enjoyable novel. (Feb. 7) Forecast: Cockey's colorful Baltimore settings should attract readers who enjoy Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series, while his breezy, casual tone, hilarious situations, very quirky, sharply drawn characters and neighborhoods will appeal to fans of Janet Evanovich. Cockey has a more serious side too, offering insightful commentary on family relationships and sibling rivalry, All this adds up to a book that's a natural for handselling, with readers' awareness cultivated via a six-city author tour and teaser chapters in the mass market edition of The Hearse You Came In On, due out on Feb. 1.