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by Lori Avocato
Avon Books, September 2004
320 pages
ISBN: 0060731656

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Burned out as a pediatric nurse, Pauline Sokol eagerly signs up as an apprentice private investigator in a firm owned by her roommate's uncle.

The reader will have to decide whether Pauline is a charming airhead or irredeemably dumb. I'm afraid I come into the latter category. Pauline is eager to do well and to make money quickly, since she foolishly co-signed a loan for a friend who promptly skipped and left Pauline with the car payments. Pauline's first assignment is to document the fraud of Tina Macaluso, who has bilked Worker's Compensation for over $30,000 for what Pauline's boss is certain is a fabricated back injury.

Armed with her assignment to show that Tina's claim is fake, Pauline goes on her first stakeout, without waiting for promised help. She has an antiquated video camera (not really her fault) and a still camera with two shots left and no additional film. Pauline twice more bungles attempts to get the goods on Tina. When she finally captures the fraud on a newly acquired video camera, her boss says that won't be sufficient because the ADAs won't have a VCR. This is a bit strange because police departments routinely tape witnesses and suspects and use the surveillance tapes from banks and stores.

To complicate her life, Pauline meets the mysterious Jagger, whom she identifies as 'Instant Orgasm.' He asks her to go back to nursing -- temporarily -- to expose insurance fraud at an orthopedic clinic, where Tina's husband is owner and Pauline's sort of boyfriend is a new member of the practice.

During Pauline's time at the clinic, two murders occur -- first Eddy Ronan, whose air bag was tampered with, and next clinic administrator, the icy and remote Linda Stark, whose body Pauline discovers.

Jagger, who materializes whenever he's needed, keeps referring to Pauline as 'Sherlock,' even though he is the one most like Holmes, in that he often appears in disguise -- from a suave aristocrat to a janitor.

Pauline, whose frequent use of "Awk" reminds one of episodes of Batman, tends to be irritating, especially in her preoccupation with male anatomy, specifically Jagger's rear end. The enigmatic Jagger is the most interesting character. Close behind are the transvestite Goldie, who early on befriends Pauline and the office receptionist Adele, who wears gloves as she types because her fingers were burned while she was in prison.

The plot drags a bit at the beginning, but it takes off as Pauline investigates the many instances of fraud at the clinic. The ending is the high point of the book -- 'knock your socks off' surprising, but it is totally appropriate in retrospect.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, September 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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