Dating Can Be Murder
by Jennifer Apodaca
(Kensington, $22.00, V) ISBN 0-7582-0073-0
“Finding out that my dead husband had been cheating on me made getting revenge harder. But not impossible.”

Trent Shaw, who had a severe peanut allergy, died while snacking on some homemade candy. It wasn’t until after his death, that his soccer mom, PTA wife Samantha discovered a stash of trashy panties in his classic, fully restored, 1964 Mustang convertible. Poor Samantha had her head buried so far in the sand with her Holly Homemaker persona that she never knew that her husband was cheating on her with multiple women. Worse still - the whole town knew about it, kept her in the dark, and gossiped about her behind her back. Sam exacts her revenge by selling Trent’s precious Mustang, having her breasts enlarged, buying a sexy new wardrobe, dying her hair blonde, and buying the dating service where they met - Heart Mates.

Unfortunately, it’s one nasty surprise after another for our intrepid heroine. Trent’s death brings another unpleasant revelation - he left his wife and two sons penniless. Selling their home, Sam and her children move in with her grandfather, a retired magician. She’s just received news from the IRS that they’re going to audit Heart Mates, and now a very scary man is threatening her at her place of business. He’s looking for money that Sam doesn’t know anything about, but her dead husband apparently did. What more could Trent possibly have been involved in? Moreover, can Sam figure out the truth before the thug harms her and/or her family?

Readers who wish Janet Evanovich would write her Stephanie Plum series a whole lot faster will find Apodaca’s debut mystery series a delight. Sam is devastated by her husband’s betrayal, and worse by the betrayal of those whom she thought were friends. All this time, Trent was chasing tail and fellow PTA, soccer-moms were gossiping about her behind her back! Her means of seeking revenge further fuels the gossip-mill, but it also allows Sam to become her own person. She’s doing what she wants, running her own business, being the best darn mom she can be, and no longer going through life with blinders on.

Written in first person, the story is told entirely from Sam’s perspective. This makes for an entertaining, often amusing read, and allows the reader to delve into Sam’s psyche. There’s something instantly appealing about a woman who is a good mother, romance book reviewer, dating service proprietor, and wannabe PI all rolled into one. Apodaca bites off quite a bit, and makes every piece of the puzzle work.

The secondary characters are all amusing additions, and will likely add much to future installments of the series. Sam’s grandfather is a delight as a retired magician, turned computer hacker. Her sons, TJ and Joel, are smart kids, still stung by their late father’s actions. Her best friend, Angel, is constantly looking for the perfect career and “stalking” her own cheating ex-husband. Gabe Pulizzi, a hunky, very resourceful PI, and Morgan Rossi, an equally resourceful detective, round out the cast.

I did have a couple minor quibbles, one being a timetable issue. Did Sam get her boob job, business, blonde hair, and new wardrobe before or after she found out that Trent left her broke? In my mind, it makes a huge difference - because if she did, how could she possibly spend the money from the sale of the Mustang on that sort of fluff when she has to move her family in with a relative? Since the author fails to address this - and I rather liked Sam, despite some occasional bubble-headed behavior - I constructed the timetable to fit my own preference.

The author also, unfortunately, tips her hand a little early. While I didn’t figure out motive, I pretty much had the “bad guys” pegged early on. Apodaca does do a commendable job tossing in a few obstacles, and I did begin to question by assumptions - only to learn in the climax that I had been right all along.

Quibbles aside, Dating Can Be Murder is an amusing start to a promising new series. Readers who like their mysteries light, with a healthy dollop of humor won’t want to miss this one. With Sam wanting to become more like the self-sufficient, strong romance heroines she likes to read about, coupled with the amusing characters that populate her life, Apodaca could quickly find herself with a loyal and devoted following.

--Wendy Crutcher

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