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Spotlight on: ...Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore

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...Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket

Inept, man-crazy, booze-loving, overweight (and, apparently, big-nosed) private investigator Helena Handbasket stumbles upon the solution to a case involving thirty million in diamonds and more murders than you can shake a stick at in Donna Moore's debut mystery spoof, ...Go to Helena Handbasket, out from PointBlank Press (run by JT Lindroos and edited by Kiss Her Goodbye author Allan Guthrie).

When Owen Banks crashes through her office door holding his brother's hands -- his severed hands -- Helena is reluctantly pleased because "business had been slower than a knee-capped snail with arthritis." Owen's brother, Robin Banks, is missing (except for his hands, of course) and Owen suspects foul play, specifically the involvement of Evan Stubezzi, the local crime lord. With very little to work with (both in clues and brains), Helena only takes the case, mostly because Owen is "a fine specimen of manhood."

From the start, author Donna Moore lets her readers know that ...Go to Helena Handbasket is not going to take itself seriously in the slightest. All of the characters' names involve puns, and I kept thinking Moore would eventually run out of silly names, but they just keep on coming. They're mostly good for a quick chuckle, since they aren't related to the characters' personalities, but you have to admire Moore's skill in mining every possible word for its humor potential.

The prologue is quite promising, with a serial killer wannabe purchasing Serial Killing for Dummies and calling his mother to find out the dark secrets of his childhood, a necessity if he is "to have any sort of future as a serial killer." There are a few surprises at the conclusion, but ...Go to Helena Handbasket is a disappointment as a novel. I wish Moore had taken her writing just a little more seriously, and had given us some characters to care about, or even respect. It is practically impossible to identify with Helena Handbasket because she is so utterly stupid. And she is surrounded by people you wouldn't even have crash your enemy's wedding.

I also would have liked a plot that offered some suspense, instead Helena continually being put into one implausible situation after another. Things improved around Chapter Four, when the plot began moving along nicely, but Moore tends to lose focus, or just drop it altogether, in favor of fitting in a wisecrack, or presenting a contrived situation for the sake of a cheap joke.

But Moore is obviously clever, and has a quick wit (she reportedly wrote this in a month). She could be the Terry Pratchett of the PI novel, just by simply putting the story first and the humor second. In this case, less is definitely more. There are enough jokes in ...Go to Helena Handbasket to provide for three or four similar novels. The book tries to be the Airplane! of private-eye novels, but unfortunately ends up being more like Mafia! instead -- by no means a classic, but still a pleasant time-passer.

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