cover image DROP DEAD, MY LOVELY


Ellis Weiner, . . NAL, $23.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-451-21117-0

In his satiric first novel, humorist Weiner (The Joy of Worry ) pokes fun at the private eye genre with mixed results. When Pete Ingalls comes to after being knocked unconscious by a pile of books in a Manhattan bookstore, he remembers only the hard-boiled detective novels he's read. He rents an office, dresses in 1940s-style clothing and hires small-time actress Stephanie Constantino to be his secretary. Mysterious, elusive Celeste Vroman asks him to find her missing married lover, attorney Jeffrey Litman. A second client, Catherine Flonger, wants Ingalls to discover if her husband, a famous TV news anchor, is seeing another woman. Blundering, naïve and inept, Ingalls nonetheless easily locates Litman, who confesses he's spurned Celeste for "class skirt" Olivia Cartwright, whose strangled body turns up in a seedy hotel room in the "prologue" that falls between chapters one and two. Mrs. Flonger makes finding her husband almost too easy. Breezy, often funny, this uneven book is rife with silly puns. When Stephanie tells Ingalls she's playing Viola in Twelfth Night , he quips, "Playing the fiddle while you're acting?" But there's some good writing, too: one character "had the pale, smooth skin of a man who went outside principally to hail cabs." Weiner clearly owes a debt to P.G. Wodehouse (a passage from The Code of the Woosters serves as an epigraph), but here he lacks the British master's sure comic touch. (Mar. 2)

Forecast: A former Spy columnist , National Lampoon editor, and New Yorker and Paris Review contributor, Weiner is well positioned to promote this novel to his fans. A blurb from Robert B. Parker will help persuade mystery readers who normally avoid broad humor to give it a try.