Nancy J. Cohen, Nancy J. Cohen, . . Kensington, $20 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-7582-0070-9

With its many loose ends, Cohen's fifth cozy whodunit starring hairstylist-sleuth Marla Shore (after 2002's Body Wave ) lives up to its billing as a "Bad Hair Day" mystery in more ways than one. In Palm Haven, Fla., Shore juggles the demands of her salon business with problematic relationships with her mother, her mother's importunate suitor and attractive police detective Dalton Vail. A missing neighbor, a murder victim with a signature highlighting pattern and Vail's official investigation conspire to put Marla on the scent of crimes involving contraband animals, illegal furs and a potion to cure baldness. A bizarre murder scheme apparently aimed at Marla's former beauty-school classmates also figures in the patchwork plot. The supporting characters aren't vivid enough to help carry the story, while the Jewish slang and humor seem forced rather than natural. As a result, the action careens from one improbable happening to another with interludes of romance and comedy that fail to captivate or convince. With Janet Evanovich setting a high standard for screwball mysteries and Sarah Strohmeyer's Bubbles Yablonsky already providing one successfully lighthearted hairdresser-sleuth heroine, Cohen has tough competition and fails to measure up in this outing. (Dec. 2)