Elaine Viets: Murder with Reservations

I’ve said this about every Elaine Viets book, I think – with each installment, I am always sure (I don’t know why) that it will actually be impossible for Ms. Viets to maintain the funny yet intelligent and somehow compulsively readable book she’s supplied with each outing. As usual, and happily, I was again wrong. Reading about the intrepid Helen Hawthorne’s job as a hotel maid was just as compelling as her telemarketer, bridal salesperson, retail clerk and fancy pet store jobs, and what’s more, Viets finally resolves a huge issue in this book – she deals with Helen’s ex-husband who is on the prowl and who seems to have at last tracked her down.

As any regular reader of this series knows, Helen has been hiding out from her ex so as not to have to pay him alimony. She had a great job which she quit and fled to Florida where she takes up various minium wage jobs that pay her in cash so that her ex can’t track her down. And in doing so, Helen has found a freedom she never had when she had a secure job – she may not have money but she has far more of a chance to savor her life, even if it doesn’t include a car. I think I am enough of a feminist to “get” Viets’ message in all the books – not only does Helen resist paying her husband alimony, but she takes on various minimum wage, crappy jobs and really illustrates – in a gently humorous way – the actual difficulties of making it from pay check to pay check. Helen has a suitcase full of cash for emergencies – as Viets makes clear, most people do not. These books are the farthest thing from a polemic but you may find that you have been gently radicalized after savoring another incredibly enjoyable reading experience.

I’ve worked in hotels myself but usually in the front office – I’ve filled in as a maid but only briefly, so while I have a vague grip on the actual physical work it takes to clean a set number of rooms in a set number of hours, I can certainly appreciate, from cleaning my own house, the work involved. These women work hard, but Viets makes it funny (you may also leave the maid on your next hotel stay a much larger tip after reading this). Some of the rooms are so bad the maids trade off on who gets the grossest one – the one with the hot tub is always worst, and all the maids fear the remnants of whipped cream in the tub. As they clean they are able to make various and generally accurate assessments of the guests staying in the rooms. And the hotel where Helen works apparently has a secret – everyone appears to be hiding something, which Helen ignores until an inconvenient dead body gets in the way. In typical Viets fashion the plot is smart and well thought out, the supporting characters are terrific, and her handling of Helen’s ex leaves nothing to be desired, as does her handling of Helen’s current flame. Read it for yourself and find out – picking up an Elaine Viets book is never a mistake.