“Death of a Neighborhood Witch: A Jaine Austen Mystery” by Laura Levine / Thursday, December 13, 2012 / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is Death of A Neighborhood Witch (Jaine Austen Mystery) by Laura Levine.

"Death of a Neighborhood Witch:  A Jaine Austen Mystery" by Laura Levine

Who says you can’t mix murder with laughs? And some candy?

Why Clay Stafford chose this book:

This book was released by Kensington in time for Halloween. I picked it up, loved it, and decided great fiction needed no holiday.

This is the 11th installment of the cozy Jaine Austen mystery series. Fictional character Jaine is a freelance writer living in the less prestigious part of Beverly Hills. As usual, Jaine is after sugar and Halloween is the perfect excuse.

There are basically two concurrent plots running in this episode, though the murder takes precedence. Mean old Eleanor Jenkins, a crotchety ex-actress, is stabbed in the chest like a vampire on Halloween night with her own “Do Not Trespass” sign bringing the concept of trick-or-treat to a new height. Of course Jaine is suspected of the crime and thus must exonerate herself. The lesser plot is the shenanigans of Jaine and her male neighbor trying to impress a new neighbor whose sexual preferences leave room for doubt. And, of course, there are her elderly parents in Tampa, which are in a plotline all to themselves.

This is a humorous novel, nothing serious about it. It reads like a sitcom and there’s a reason. I’ve known of Levine a long time before she ever started writing this series from her work with 18 episodes of “Out of This World,” several others for “Private Benjamin,” “We’ve Got It Made,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” Three’s Company,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “The Love Boat,” and one of my all-time favorites, an episode of “The Jeffersons,” the last one featuring an appearance by Mother Jefferson (George’s mother). I grew up on her stuff. And not just the TV fare. I ate the cereal she created as an advertising guru: General Mills’ Count Chocula and Frankenberry. My first introduction to her mystery novel collection was “Death of a Trophy Wife,” one of my favorites, though I think “Death of a Neighborhood Witch” tops them all. Everything Levine writes is top-notch: the movement is fast, the dialogue quick and witty, the characters are off-the-wall, the set-ups are crazy, and the situations incongruous.

If you like cozies on the funny side, get “Death of a Neighborhood Witch,” even out of season. I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud.

From the publisher:

“Halloween is just around the corner, and between cauldrons of candy and a deliciously cute new neighbour, Jaine Austen is struggling to resist her sweet tooth. But this year, her once humdrum neighbourhood seems to be handing out more tricks than treats…When her faithful feline Prozac unwittingly scares to death a parakeet belonging to the neighbourhood’s resident curmudgeon, Jaine finds herself knee-deep in toil and trouble. The cantankerous Hollywood has-been once played the part of Cryptessa Muldoon, television’s fourth most famous monster mom. Now a bitter, paranoid old dame, Cryptessa spends her days making enemies with everyone on the street, and accidental bird killer Jaine is no exception. So when the ornery D-lister is murdered with her own Do Not Trespass sign on Halloween night, the neighbourhood fills with relief – and possible culprits. With a killer on the loose, Jaine hardly has time to fall under the spell of her yummy new neighbour Peter. As the prime suspect, she summons her sleuthing skills to clear her name and soon discovers that everyone has a few skeletons in their closets – and the motives for murder are endless. Could it have been Cryptessa’s next door neighbours, the barracuda husband and wife realtors whose landscaping Cryptessa had bulldozed? Or the seemingly sweet old lady whose beloved dog was the object of Cryptessa’s wrath? Or perhaps the crotchety actress was done in by her own nephew in a desperate attempt to get his hands on her money? As the masks come off, Jaine’s search for sweet justice turns up more questions than answers. And just when she thought nothing could be scarier than her run-in with a tortuous Tummy Tamer, she closes in on the killer and learns the true meaning of grave danger…”

If you want to make your own comments on this selection, we would love to hear from you. Join our Facebook Killer Nashville group page or our blog and join in the discussion.

Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!

– Clay Stafford, Founder of Killer Nashville