With a spot-on sendup of Los Angeles and the movie biz, veteran mystery writer E.J. Copperman (pen name of Jeffrey Cohen) provokes plenty of laughter in his latest whodunit, “Inherit the Shoes.”
Copperman introduces attorney Sandra Moss, an East Coast transplant with a caustic sense of humor. California represents change to Sandy; she’s a former assistant county prosecutor from New Jersey who’s tired of murder cases, and she’s starting a new job at a large, successful, family law firm.
But to her consternation, her first case at the firm – originally a simple divorce settlement – turns into a murder. Her client, the TV star Patrick McNabb, is the prime suspect when his wife, the former star singer Patsy DeNunzio, is found dead with an arrow from the John Wayne film “The Searchers” protruding from her chest. Worse, Patrick played a lawyer on TV and therefore thinks he can do so in real life.
On top of that, Sandy must adjust to plenty of other changes: an excess of pineapple pizza, industry insiders with impossibly large egos, a butler straight out of central casting, and a troublesome music producer.
Though the characters are exaggerated (OK, maybe the LA stereotypes are only slightly over-the-top) they are smart, funny, and authentically human. Sandy can’t help but crack wise at their antics, and her pointed barbs about the Left Coast are hilarious. Copperman’s humor, however, is never mean-spirited, and in the end Sandy grudgingly begins to adapt to the new lifestyle she wanted in the first place.
Copperman skillfully builds characters who each have dialogue and vocal patterns authentic to their backgrounds, be it manservant, studio executive, nerdy archery expert, or private investigator. Amid the colorful supporting cast is Sandy's best friend Angie, who shares similar values, finishes her sentences, and brings a little Jersey realness to Tinseltown. Sometimes the book’s practical jokes clash with the more realistic aspects of the story, but those moments are few.
Sandy and her client end up working together to solve the mystery of his wife’s death – and also to find some missing movie memorabilia. The backdrop of rabid fans and ridiculous Hollywood parties is enough to make any pop enthusiast giddy, but Copperman also cleverly lets readers see how silly it all is. A smidgen of cynicism gives this story a slight edge and balances out the frivolity of all things La-La Land.
While Copperman’s crime caper has enough red herrings to keep readers from guessing the culprits, it’s obvious where the series will be heading. Charming Patrick clearly has a crush on Sandy and the financial means to be her knight in shining armor, even when she really doesn’t need one. New cases are already being collected for her, and a cast of secondary characters are sticking around – including a sardonic LA police lieutenant, a lumbering but capable private eye, and of course, Sandy’s best friend Angie.
If readers are fortunate, they will all return in another quick-paced installment, and Copperman’s California – both a real place and a state of mind – can be revisited.