Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 1-57566-880-7
Paranormal Comedy Mystery, 2003 (Reissue)
Kasey Michaels’s Maggie Needs an Alibi is the first of a series of cozy mysteries starring ex-romance author turned suspense author Maggie Kelly, her popular trademark character Alexandre Blake, Viscount Saint Just, and Alex’s sidekick Sterling Balder.
You read that right: in this series, Alex and Sterling somehow manage to escape from Maggie’s imagination to live in her world. Alex is a pompous and arrogant rake while Sterling is the somewhat dim-witted rotund and loyal sidekick. While Maggie and these two face off as they try to get used to each other, trouble brews when Maggie’s publisher Kirk Toland (who also happens to be her ex) dies from what seems like eating poisonous mushrooms and Maggie becomes the prime suspect. Lucky for everybody, Saint Just believes himself quite the pro in amateur Sherlock-Holmes’ing. Hello, disaster.
Much of the reasons to read this book lie in the devastatingly blunt depiction of the publishing industry. If Maggie Kelly is Kasey Michaels’s Mary Sue, quick, let’s guess who Felicity Boothe Simmons is – Felicity writes about cunilingus on page 20 and has been repeating her same old storylines for years now. Never mind the now stereotypical characters in “When Romance Authors Attempt Satire” plots – the easygoing editor, the dedicated and prim agent, the evil oh so evil publishers – Ms Michaels head straight for the jugular with gems like this:
… she’d asked Bernie how to answer when someone burst her balloon by saying (as someone had), “Romance? That bodice-ripper smut? When are you going to write a real book?”
Maggie, young and naïve, had thought her editor would have some words of wisdom for her, something to do with how worthy romances were, their high market share, all that good stuff. Bernie’s answer had been Maggie’s real introduction to New York: “What do you say? I’ve always found a simple Go Fuck Yourself to work.”
I’m so going to use that line myself.
No, it’s not RWA, it’s WAR, We are Romance, that is. It is also interesting how Kasey, I mean Maggie, perceives her being dropped by her publisher when she was a midlist author as the genre turning its back on her. I’ve never thought an author would see things this way, and I did consider the validity of the point after some thought – when an author’s books aren’t selling, who else is to be blamed for the lack of readership? Not the author, surely – the editor and the agent says she’s blooming marvelous, so it has to be the readers’ fault that her books don’t sell! (Yes, I’m being sarcastic here.)
There is also a very interesting scene when the author works hard to insert a variety of elements in her books only to roll up her eyes in exasperation when she is confronted by fans who seem to be interested only in the sex scenes. While I’m not too enamored of the author’s use of stereotypical dowdy housewives to depict loser fangirl readers and I’m even less enamored of the author’s “All noble bred ladies don’t have sex because it’s not historically accurate – but all heroes are rakes, that’s okay!” preaching, I do concede one thing to the author – those sex-obsessed readers are scary. However, come on, “historical accuracy” is not an euphemism for enforcing stereotypes. If all heroines are virgins and all heroes are rakes – gee, just like Ms Michaels’ Regency historicals – because it is proclaimed to be so, gag me. While there should be at least a basic minimum amount of historical accuracy in a book, let the characters and storylines fly please, instead of being mired in stereotypes passed off as historical accuracy.
Oops, I digress. What about the book, eh?
For the most part, bubbly and often funny dialogues make this book a charming, sometimes laugh-out-funny read. The characters are alright, although at this stage, it’s too early to pinpoint exactly who these characters really are. The author is taking her times especially with Alex. He’s arrogant, often unbearably so, but there are occasional flashes of insecurity in him that promise some nice character development waiting in the wings. Maggie often reacts to situations rather than initiate a reaction, but I guess she can be excused for now – after all, it isn’t everyday one’s characters come to life and play squatter in your home. My favorite is actually Sterling Balder. He’s so sweet, Sancho Panza to a more stable Don Quixote, and despite his hopeless infatuation on Alice Brady, he’s such a charmer. He should meet some Kathy Griffin sort of heroine to teach him the joys of watching French softporn masquerading as arthouse movies.
It is still too early to form a definitive opinion on the characters, although “fun” and “entertaining” cross my mind several times while I’m reading. The next book sees our main characters attending a WAR conference. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m there for the fun, the fizzy pop, and the voyeuristic thirst to see just how far the author will go in “satirizing” (read: telling things as they are) the publishing industry.