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Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Review: Murders Buys a One-Way Ticket

I've been a horrible slump. It's a slump that was born out of equal parts work stress, a year so far where my average reads are in a dead heat with good and great reads (combined) and just not having the spoons to do much eyeball reading. Frankly though, this funk I've been in has started to annoy me, so I decided it was time to try pure, unadulterated brain candy. A book where I knew exactly what I was going to get, and as luck would have it, Murder Buys A One-Way Ticket by Laura Levine dropped in late June.

Spoilers Ahoy!

This is the 20th book in a series that started in the early 2000s and I would compare it to the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich on one very salient point - you're basically getting the same plot structure over and over again. There are just certain things I know are going to happen to our heroine, freelance writer, Jaine Austen, in each new book: 

  1. A dating disaster of epic proportions. 
  2. Jaine's various food obsessions (seriously, at this point I'm convinced she has an undiagnosed eating disorder and should work with a shrink about her comfort eating....) 
  3. Wacky hijinks her parents (OK, her father) get into in their Florida retirement community, relayed via email. 
  4. At least one mention of Jaine's favorite T-Shirt (Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!) and clothing with elastic waist bands.
  5. Her fabulous gay neighbor, Lance, lamenting her wardrobe and roping her into some scheme that he's sure will help bag him Mr. Right. 
  6. Jaine's cat Prozac being the "owner" in their relationship.
But whereas I quit Stephanie Plum after Book 17 because of the main character being a flaming hypocrite and the super thin mysteries, Levine, for all the problematic faults in some of her books (broad humor is tricky, you either stick the landing or plummet to Earth like an anvil) never skimps on the mystery. There's always multiple suspects, with compelling motives (the victims are usually widely loathed), condensed in a short word count (usually around 230 pages).  A lot of this can be explained by Levine's history as a sitcom writer.  The mysteries keep me guessing and the books are snappy as hell.

This time out Jaine takes a ghostwriting job for Chip Miller, owner of a string of successful gyms looking to publish a Fitness For Dummies style book. Jaine is to join Chip and his entourage in a trip from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara by private railway. A veritable lap of luxury way to travel, except, of course, Chip turns out to be a tyrant. On board are family members, his fiancée', his right hand man / best pal in the gym enterprise, and the staff (specifically a waiter and a cook) who all hate his guts. So truly, it's not a huge surprise when Chip turns up dead, smothered to death in bed by one of his many "World's Greatest Dad" pillows. Naturally, the cops zero in on Jaine as possible suspect. To clear her good name she's going to once again turn amateur sleuth.

This is by far the strongest entry in the last several. The mystery is solid, there's a ton of suspects, all with compelling motives, and some of the broad humor that has annoyed me is tempered a wee bit. It's still there, but this time out Jaine's father's antics while still wacky as hell didn't hit me quite as wacky as some of the last few books. Lance, who I feel had turned snide and borderline vicious in the later entries, is positively mellow here.  Heck, even Prozac isn't nearly as mean spirited. Is it still broad humor? Is it still following the well-trod path of each book that proceeded this one? Yes and yes. But it worked better here with this story than in the last handful of entries.

Finally, the ending. One word: wowzers! This would be why I put the Spoiler label at the start of this review. Folks, it's happened. Jaine finally gets a happy ending. I'm not sure what this means, but I see three possibilities: 
  1. This is the end of the line for the series. Jaine rides off into the sunset to live happily-ever-after.
  2. The series will continue, but the author will take Jaine in a slightly new direction now that she has a romantic partner.
  3. It all goes to hell between the end of this book and the start of the next book. Jaine's back to being single.
I truly hope #3 doesn't happen, because the happy ending is amusing and apropos for a character named Jaine Austen. Time, as they say, will tell.  In the meantime, I'm not ready to declare the slump dead, but this book helped to at least give it a flesh wound.

Final Grade = B

Edited to add 7/15/24: The author posted on her Facebook page (7/12/24) that this will be the last full length book in the series. So now I'm doubly happy that Jaine found her Mr. Right.


azteclady said...

I struggle so much with humor, I'm not sure this would be for me (it doesn't help I'm reading a small town cozy in a series that also leans on the "funny"), but YAY for piercing the blasted reading slump's armor!

Jazzlet said...

Yay indeed for piercing the reading slump. I don't dare count how many started books I have that I may return to when the mood is better . . . yeah right.

BevBB said...

I like wacky humor so this sounds interesting & I've been looking for a new mystery series.

Jen Twimom said...

Well, yay for finding a book during a reading slump. I'm not in a slump per se, but I find myself putting off reading to do other things... like check blog posts.

Wendy said...

AL: Yeah, I don't see this series being your thing at all. The humor is very broad and it's telling that Levine used to write for sitcoms - including Three's Company, Laverne & Shirley, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman among others.

Jazzlet: My problem is I haven't even started books! I can't seem to settle on anything long enough to even read the first chapter.

BevBB: What I said to AL. If you like wacky and broad humor, then yes - this series is worth checking out. They read like sitcoms.

Jen: Ha! That's my problem. I'm putting off reading because I just don't have the bandwidth right now - so I'm watching TV or playing games on my phone instead.

Finally, I'll be adding an update to this review - the author just posted on her Facebook page that she's retiring. She's 81 (!) and looking to get ahead from deadlines - which who can blame her? She hasn't entirely shut the door on possibly writing a novella in the future, but now I'm doubly happy she chose to give the heroine a happy ending with what we now know is the last full-length book.

azteclady said...

Goodness gracious, go her!

BevBB said...

Wow. Yeah, I can do whacky humor & knowing the series is "finished" is a selling point for me to be honest.

I don't know about the rest of you but the older I get the more I want "completed stories" in series before I'm willing to invest my time.

azteclady said...

@BevBB: Yes, especially anything beyond six books. Give me a couple (or even three) linked trilogies, where each one is self contained? I'm happy. Open-ended series already 20+ strong? Yeah, probably not unless I got on board on the first two or three, back in the day.

(Mind you, I'm following several open-ended series right now, so that's part of my problem: too many I'm already following!)

BevBB said...

AL: Know what you mean. I have some "comfort read" romance authors that I continue to read even when I sometimes think there is no end in sight. Probably because there isn't & I'm okay with that. But there are others I honestly like that I haven't read in awhile & then I check their backlists... just to catch up I'd have to read like 20 books! Seriously? Don't get me wrong, there was a time where I would've goggled those 20 down in a few weeks. But not now.

One more thing, it's not just the number of books either. It's also that if series, especially romance series, go on that long they can become generational. And there is a point there that I just can't. Looking at you, Stephanie Laurens.

Wendy said...

BevBB & AL: So, true story. I listened to Naked In Death by J.D. Robb sometime in the early 2000s. I can't remember exactly when, but I was still living in Michigan and I left the state in 2004. Anyway, I thought it was OK. It didn't light my world on fire, but it was a decent way to pass the time. I probably would have considered keeping up with the series but even at that time it was 20-something books long and I just couldn't. The first book was OK for me, but not OK enough to make that kind of time commitment. And now? Book 60 is releasing in February 🤣

In Levine's case I caught the bus early. I was assigned to read Book 2 back when I was still doing Heavy Lifting Book Reviewing. It really makes a difference for me when I hook into a series. Early enough? Like it enough? I'll keep up with it. Otherwise 🤷‍♀️

azteclady said...

@BevBB: oh god, YES. that generational thing Laurens does...but then, I also had stopped enjoying her work before she got too far down that road, thank goodness.

@Wendy: The older I get, the more I appreciate the importance when I read something has on my feelings about it--and not just calendar-wise, but where I was in my life. Some books have lifted me out of dark pits because I needed what they said to me, even if objectively* they may not hold up to close scrutiny.

*or as objectively as something that's generally subjective can be.

BevBB said...

Wendy: I honestly never got into Nora Roberts but my daughter really liked the In Death series when it first came out. Then she lost interest. When I told her it was up to book 60 her eyes got really big. Seriously, where is the point where it gets totally ridiculous? Honestly not sure I could read that many books about the same character.

Also, being an active author all the way to age 81 is an incredible accomplishment. It would be interesting to see how many in the romance genre reach that milestone. There are probably a few that have but I'd have to do some research to figure out who.

AL: Yeah, the generational thing is a weird... well, I'm not really sure what the right word is... conundrum(?) for the romance genre. On, the one hand, you'd think it would happen more than it does because the romances are typically about one couple each book. I have run across a couple of authors who have tackled it in the past but they were trilogies. Or four or five books at most. And usually told a complete overall story about some type of family history/problem that eventually gets resolved. Maybe even a "saving the world" type issue since I've read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi romances. Nothing like, oh, here's a immense family tree so let's explore every minute branch of it and see where it takes us until the end of time. It just boggles the mind.

azteclady said...

@BevBB: I was actually thinking about Lisa Kleypas's Wallflowers intersection with the Ravenels--of course, it helps that there are a good six or seven years between the two, and the connection doesn't appear until the last two books of the Ravenels. Yes, there are two generations, but everyone (author, readers, characters) had a breather, and also, hey, it's finite. Like you say, it's not, "huge family tree, and a romance for every twig".

azteclady said...

@BevBB: Something else that bothers me about Laurens' fixation on the Cynsters is that it feels like two or three generations of people exist in the same decade? The sense of period is so vague, wallpaper-y romancelandia Regency, that we are on to Devil Cynster's great grandchildren or whatever, and the world they move in feels like it's the same--that alone is off-putting enough for me.

BevBB said...

AL: I'm not sure what the last Cynster book I actually read was but the last one I remember clearly is The Perfect Lover which is only #10. If I remember correctly it was set late Regency but I have no idea when the kater ibes are set.

But even if the Cynster timeline is murky or even just weirdly stays in a Regency setting, nothing could be as bad as the time-distorting of Christine Feehan's Carpathian series. Honestly, the main reason I gave up on that series is because it felt like they were in some sort of time bubble outside of everything in the contemporary world. Yeah, that's another one that is flatout generational and not in a good way.

azteclady said...

@BevBB: oh wow, I hadn't thought about the Carphathians in ages! I confess that I quit those fairly early; that was the first series where I read the first couple when there were something like eight or nine already out, and naïvely bought all of those expecting I would catch up and keep up thereafter--but by the time I got to them, I was tired of the pattern/gimmick, where every male protagonist is the biggest/mostest/most powerful in the world...until the next book. So I didn't notice the generic/out of time bubble aspect, only that there was no internally-consistent worldbuilding/overarching plot. Then there was how abusive and controlling of the heroine they all are, and gave up on the author entirely.

(I wish I had given up as easily on J.R. Ward, that one took me until...I think The King)

I quit the Cynsters around there, I think; I vaguely remember reading about the twin girls but apparently read a couple or three after theirs. Then I read one of the Barnaby books, and was reminded why I had given her up--and wrote a pretty scathing review for it too:

Wendy said...

I love this thread. It's like the olden days of blogging!

As shocking as this is, I've never read Laurens. I know! I think at one point I might have had Devil's Bride in the print TBR, but I don't think it survived one of my semi-irregular purges.

Oh man, Feehan. I never read any of the Carpathian but I read one of the early Ghostwalker books (the first one I think?) when I was still doing Heavy Lifting Book Reviewing and AL's comment about "every male protagonist is the biggest/mostest/most powerful in the world" is EXACTLY why that first book didn't work for me. It was obvious she was setting up a new series but every single guy in that book read the same. No distinction. All interchangeable. I got bored rather quickly.