Well Read and Dead by Catherine O'Connell

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Excerpts & Reviews

"...fine thriller...an engaging read" -Harriet Klausner

publisher's weeklyFiction ReviewsPublisher's Weekly: The perils of Pauline Cook, society widow extraordinaire, include some decidedly dark twists in O'Connell's otherwise lighthearted second mystery (after 2007's Well Bred and Dead). After a long, decadent European vacation, Pauline returns to a post-9/11 America to learn she's lost nearly $20 million in bad investments. Adding insult to injury, Air France loses her Louis Vuitton luggage, plus her best friend, Whitney Armstrong, who's been taking care of her precious cat, Fleur, has vanished, along with Fleur and Whitney's dogs. Whitney's grief-stricken husband, scion of the nation's largest lingerie empire, offers Pauline a multimillion-dollar reward to find Whitney. Pauline decides she could use the money to pay for unfinished renovations on her Chicago penthouse. Brimming with witty observations about the well-heeled and the machinations of greedy businessmen, this sophisticated romp takes the daring amateur sleuth all the way to Thailand and Vietnam. (Apr.)

Library Journal 3/1/09: Socialite Pauline Cook returns to Chicago to find that her best friend has disappeared, the Enron scandal has wiped out her personal fortune, and work on her apartment renovation has halted. Poor, homeless Pauline, with only $2 million to sustain her, takes up the challenge of finding her friend, which leads to Thailand and unexpected danger. O'Connell portrays the lives of the phenomenally wealthy with humor and a fondness for Pauline, who in a rare moment or two rises above her social status to attain a momentary flash of the heroic. For larger collections.

This is the second adventure for Chicago’s Golden Mile socialite widow Pauline Cook (following 2007’s Well Bred and Dead). Initially, it seems difficult to have much sympathy for a slightly ditzy, superficial multimillionaire who seems to regularly float into irresponsible relationships and lose 20 million dollars or so through her own carelessness. But Pauline does have a strong sense of loyalty and a surprising amount of common sense. While she is not at all computer or technically savvy, she doesn’t hesitate to try to solve the disappearance of her friend Whitney Armstrong. (Of course, the promise of a multimillion-dollar reward by Whitney’s husband helps to strengthen her resolve.) Thanks to her jet-set connections and uncontrollable spending habits (she spent her way through her first fortune and lost her second with the help of Enron), Pauline knows how to globe-trot and easily travels from Chicago to Aspen to Southeast Asia in search of Whitney. Readers will find themselves warming to this improbable high-society sleuth who challenges our assumptions about what a mystery heroine should be like.— Judy Coon

EXCERPT: I fell in exhaustion onto the sloping lawn behind the Martha’s Vineyard cottage, the pungent scent of burning leaves filling my nostrils and the melancholy crash of the surf echoing in my ears. Henry crept up beside me on the dewy grass wearing a mischievous smile. He had dismissed the gardeners hours earlier, and we had passed the time ever since diving headlong into the mountain of crisp autumn leaves they had left behind. Like a couple of children playing, we took turns charging the pile and flinging ourselves into space, laughing gleefully as we floated back to earth through the downy mattress of withered leaves. Thought we were still celebrating the first anniversary of our marriage, each day with Henry still held surprises. He had been able to coax out an impetuous side of me I never knew existed.

When we had finally tired of our game, we raked the flattened leaves back into a tidy haystack, and Henry applied a match. Leaning back on the cool grass in contented silence, we watched our handiwork smolder and flicker before erupting into flames, illuminating the evening sky in a bonfire worthy of Savaronola himself.

I closed my eyes and thought hungrily about the two unsuspecting lobsters that awaited us in the kitchen. The fire spit and crackled and the pungent smell of smoke grew stronger. As waves of heat caressed my body through the chill autumn air, Henry drew closer and brushed my eyelids with his fingertips. I tipped my chin upward in anticipation of his kiss. But instead of feeling the soft insistence of his lips upon mine, my desire was met with a sting of pain when a flaming leaf spiraled from the sky and settled squarely on my cheek.

My eyes flew open as I cried aloud and flicked the ember from my face. It took me a second to get my bearings. I wasn’t in Martha’s Vineyard after all, but rather in my Chicago penthouse, a thousand miles and light-years away. And Henry was still dead. It had all been a dream. But my throbbing cheek was no dream, and neither was the smoke. It rose above me in variegated layers, floating alongside the orderly rows of my bookshelves.

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