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Harley Jane Kozak's latest mystery novel humorous and suspenseful

(Broadway Books, 2009, trade paperback, $11.95)


A Date You Can’t Refuse
is the fourth installment of Harley Jane Kozak’s mysteries involving Wollie Shelley, who is described on the back cover copy as a “serial dater,” presumably because she often ends up dating Mr. Wrong.


Writing is a second career for Kozak, who grew up in Lincoln, and will teach a writing workshop at the Nebraska Book Festival on Nov. 14. Her first career is in acting. Born Susan Jane Kozak she took her stage name from the motorcycle and began her career on a soap opera and eventually appeared in such A-list movies as Arachnophobia and Parenthood.


Wollie Shelley is a greeting card artist. She’s a good artist but not financially successful. To complicate matters, her brother – who is mentally ill and in a halfway house – has been threatened with eviction.
Reluctantly, Wollie (short for Wollstonecraft, after Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th Century feminist) accepts an undercover assignment from F.B.I. agent Bennett Graham. She is to be a Social Coach for a company called MediaRex. In exchange, Graham promises to make sure her brother is allowed to remain in the halfway house.


A “Social Coach,” as it turns out, is a combination of chauffer and etiquette coach. Her pupils are visitors from Eastern Europe who must be introduced to American customs. The F.B.I. thinks something nefarious is going on. Wollie’s job is to plant three bugs, each in a specific area of the house, and to report on anything out-of-the-ordinary that might be said or done at the compound.


The story makes many twists and turns on its suspenseful path to a surprise ending. Wollie is endearing as the narrator, revealing much about herself. She doesn’t have the makeup to be a spy – she must even be coached by her friends Joey and Fredreeq on how to lie – but she is committed to taking care of her brother.


The quirky characters whom Wollie coaches provide much of the humor. There is Zbiggo, the burley over-sexed boxer who spends much of his time unconscious and a good portion of the rest of his time getting into trouble. And Felix, who wrote a book called Jesus Made Me Skinny, and is in this country for an operation to remove the folds of skin left hanging on his body when the fat melted away.

Other mysteries in the Wollie Shelley series are Dating Dead Men, Dating is Murder, and Dead Ex. A Date You Can’t Refuse is an excellent novel. Highly recommended.


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