Thursday, July 24, 2014

This Pen for Hire - A Humorous Cozy Series Begins

5 out of 5 Stars

A few years ago I discovered cozy mysteries and I have been reading them ever since.  I am in the middle of several different cozy series and I continue to pick up new cozies to try.  I first discovered the Jaine Austen series through a few short stories in collections along with short stories featuring Hannah Swensen.  Since I enjoyed the short stories so much, I decided to pick up This Pen for Hire, the first Janie Austen book by Laura Levine.

Freelance writer Jaine Austen - her mother has spelling issues - lives in Beverly Hills with her cat Prozac.  She mainly writes brochures, ads, and sometimes letters for various things.  She is hesitant to accept a job offer from Howard Murdoch, a somewhat shy man.  He wants Jaine to write a letter to Stacy, a beautiful fitness instructor/future actress.  Howard wants the letter to ask Stacy out even though he has never spoken to her.  Jaine is surprised when Howard tells her that Stacy accepts and a date is planned.  Things get complicated when Jaine learns that Howard has been arrested for Stacy’s murder.  Even though she really doesn’t know him, Jaine is convinced that he is innocent.  She feels at least partially to blame for Howard’s situation because of the letter she wrote, so she decides that she needs to investigate the murder herself.

This Pen for Hire works well as a first book in a series.  Even though it is a short book, Jaine is sufficiently introduced and set up as a likable, fun, and believable main character.  A few other characters like her best friend Kandi and nosy neighbor Lance with Superman like hearing, along with Prozac, are introduced who will be back in future books.  I really like her and want to continue reading about her various adventures.  I first read a few short stories featuring Jaine that take place somewhere in the middle of the series.  I was able to follow things fine in the stories, but when I decided to move on to the books, I started with the first one.  I prefer to read a series of books in order even if the individual books can stand alone. 

This is one of the shorter books I have read in a long time, but that doesn’t mean that nothing happens or that it isn’t enjoyable.  It doesn’t feel rushed even though several things happen by the end.  There isn’t always a lot of attention to some things, like her writing jobs that are mentioned.  That sort of thing may bother some readers, but it didn’t bother me.  There is enough going on to keep things interesting even though I wouldn’t have minded if the book was longer.

Just about all of the cozy mysteries that I have read have been more light hearted in some way than other more serious mysteries even with murder still happening.  I think This Pen for Hire, and the Jaine Austen series as a whole, is the lightest of them all.  That makes the book a very fun read and I love it.  A lot of the humor is provided by Jaine’s various thoughts about what is going on.  She shares what she thinks Prozac is thinking - like hurry up with my food or something like that - that I found to be funny.  Jaine is able to look at things with humor even when she is taking something seriously, like the murder of Stacy.  I laughed out loud more than once while reading this book.  The humor works very well for the book and I think it is one of the reasons why it is so entertaining.  Author Laura Levine worked writing for various comedies, including Laverne & Shirley and Three’s Company, before starting to write books.  I can see the influence of her prior job in her writing.  Some of the things that happen are a bit of a stretch, which may bother some readers.  Anyone who prefers more serious mysteries should probably skip this one. 

When she begins her investigation, it doesn’t take Jaine long to discover that Stacy was very well liked by men she came into contact with and hated by the women.  Jaine discovers that several people have decent motives.  I didn’t fully figure out things even though I did come up with a suspicion or two.  The mystery is interesting and entertaining.  Considering the shorter length of the book, it is fairly strong as well.  A few things that happen are more predictable and there is also some suspense at times as well.  Detective Rea, the detective in charge of the investigation, is less than pleased with Jaine launching her own investigation, something that seems believable. 

All of Jaine’s thoughts, some more wild than others, are shared in This Pen for Hire because the book is written in first person from her point of view.  She isn’t made out to be little miss perfect like has happened with some characters in other books.  She has flaws and more like a normal woman.  She worries about keeping Prozac in kitty food and paying her bills even though she loves her work.  She does have an interest in sex even though she isn’t in a relationship and has a failed marriage in her past.  There are a few sexual remarks that may be a little too specific for some readers, though there really isn’t anything objectionable or obscene in the book.  She is a more normal size instead of a walking toothpick - though the cover art is the opposite.  She doesn’t seem obsessed with her size or image, but she does put herself down at times.  She does make a few questionable decisions even though she is smart. 

Prozac may be a cat, but I consider her a character too.  She is frequently around, and thanks to Jaine, readers sort of know what she may be thinking at different times.  Prozac isn’t the most affectionate with Jaine and she is very demanding when it comes to her food.  Some of the things she does are like what my cats do at times - especially getting demanding over food or treats.

Kandi is Jaine’s best friend.  Kandi writes for an animated show about a roach and is constantly trying to meet men.  She is nice even though she is a little flighty at times.  Lance is the very nosy neighbor who must be a long lost relative of Superman because of his super hearing.  Jaine compares him to Superman more than once.  At one point he asks Jaine to do something about the motor of her refrigerator being too loud.  He comes across as something as a jerk with the way he acts, but he has gotten better in future books.  Detective Rea is only in a few scenes, so he doesn’t get a lot to do.  The other characters that are tied to the murder investigation aren’t developed much at all.  A few of them are interesting. 

This Pen for Hire is a very fun, entertaining cozy mystery that deserves to be read.  It could be too humorous for some people.  It works well as the first book of a series. 

This review is part of elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write-off because of Jaine comparing Lance to Superman.

I originally posted a review of this book on Epinions on June 10, 2012 as dragonfire88.  This is a new review written for this blog.


  1. As you know, I love this series. So very funny, and consistently so book after book.

  2. I love it too. I've only gotten through the first three books - along with a couple of short stories I read from those books that also had Hannah stories. I have 2 more waiting to be read. I decided I wanted to update/rewrite the reviews for the first two books for here before I get to much further into the series. Then I can keep going with the reviews here. I do have notes for the third book I read not long ago.