Book review: Nobody is surprised when this star turns up dead
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Book review: Nobody is surprised when this star turns up dead

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"A Star Is Dead" by Elaine Viets; Severn (224 pages, $28.99)

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A celebrity behaving badly makes for an entertaining plot as Elaine Viets skewers the fascination, and sometimes worship, that some have with the famous in "A Star Is Dead."

Death investigator Angela Richman is used to dealing with the upscale residents of Chouteau Forest, a wealthy suburb of St. Louis where she is based.

But this may be the first time she has seen these rich neighbors be star struck when actress Jessica Gray attends a party at a Chouteau Forest mansion following the last performance of her one-woman show. Jessica was famous during the 1960s for starring in a couple of movies and is still "slim and gorgeous." But now her stage act takes her from city to city, while she tries to stir up interest in her kale-based beauty products.

While Jessica publicly maintains a vibrant, likable persona, in private she is condescending and downright nasty to her entourage, an equally "heartless group," and the local residents whom she considers beneath her. As part of her comedy act, she brings three homeless women on stage and humiliates them. Few people are surprised when Jessica is murdered.

As Angela begins to handle the investigation, her friend - and hairdresser - Mario Garcia is arrested for Jessica's murder. Now Angela has to juggle her professional duties with her personal concern for her friend.

Angela continues to show her mettle as an intelligent death investigator dedicated to her job and justice in this fourth outing. Viets, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, wisely has Angela handle several cases, which would be a realistic aspect of her job. The appealing Angela is a solid addition to the other characters who Viets has explored in her 33 novels and four series.

Sharp dialogue and well-sculpted characters punctuate "A Star Is Dead." But Viets indulges in the cliche of a character insisting on meeting instead of telling important information over the phone. That never ends well.

Still this visit to Chouteau Forest moves at a brisk place and Angela again proves to be good company in "A Star Is Dead."

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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