Once upon a time Lulu Malone was somebody. Granted, she was the sort of somebody whose fame depended on a dimpled face warbling a signature dog food jingle (“Doggie Doggie Bow Wow”), but when there are bills to pay and a lifestyle to maintain, an actor will take what she can get. Especially when her career trajectory is subject to the mismanagement of her union representative, Stan.
When Stan gets knifed in his office, suspicion falls on Lulu and her equally grudging actor pals, as one would expect. What one might not expect is Lulu’s world-weary but boundlessly optimistic voice: “Each day brings its own wondrous astonishment. This morning, my happy surprise was that nobody had tried to break into my condo and kill me.”
Equally delightful are some highly absurd set pieces: there’s a kidnapped dog, a thug who giggles and sings Lulu’s dog food jingle when he’s sent to rough her up, a near-death attack from a shoe, and a surfeit of comic asides: “How could anybody look at me and think murder? I’m adorable.”
Deadly Dues does succumb to some classic debut novel mistakes. Far too many chapters end with Lulu going to bed and begin with her waking up to a ringing telephone. And while Lulu is an appealing protagonist who pokes fun at her slide into amateur sleuthdom, the supporting players, such as Stan’s dragon-lady girlfriend and Lulu’s hard-luck colleagues, aren’t nearly so well drawn.
But despite these minor lapses, Kupecek, a former entertainment journalist, has most of the elements for a smart and funny new series – something all too rare in crime fiction’s mostly serious, sober world.