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Book Review: The Corpse Wore Stilettos by MJ O’Neill

Four months ago, Kat Water’s life fell apart. Her father, a prominent insurance broker, was arrested on racketeering charges, accused of laundering money for the mob. A successful museum curator in Boston, Kat immediately dropped everything to return to St. Louis when her father was taken into custody, leaving behind her fiance and career. With all of their possessions seized and their bank accounts frozen, Kat’s mother, Lauren, and her grandmother, Theodora, are left poverty-stricken, and Kat, with her family name now dragged through the mud by the media, can only find a job in the county morgue. With her minor in biology and her detail-oriented personality, she finds her work interesting and rewarding–almost. So, when she is tasked with processing the body of what is believed to be a prostitute, everything seems to be business as usual until she realizes the deceased girl doesn’t really bear the typical signs of her profession, but before she can really begin her task, Kat is interrupted by a gun-toting man who steals the body. Now, Kat’s family is again the target of speculation and rumor when everyone believes the body is somehow connected to her father, his crimes, and the mob. Kat is determined to find the body, solve the mystery of the girl’s identity, and clear her family name. She grudgingly teams up with the distractingly attractive Burns McPhee, ex-military special forces turned security firm owner. As they chase the mystery and the body all over St. Louis, the two realize the girl’s death is part of a much larger, much more dangerous plot.

This novel’s character line-up shines! With one misfit, eccentric after another, they all just seem to work seamlessly to create a memorable, fun read. From shoe-obsessed drag queens to heroic strippers, this novel definitely delivers on character development. Grand, Kat’s grandmother Theodora, is a gem. This borderline “geriatric Nancy Drew” is a hoot! Often the feisty troublemaker, Grand cannot help but instigate or fan the flames in any and every bad situation.  If she isn’t “shopping” in their police-patrolled, off-limits former home, she is running around in kitschy visors (one for all occasions) and making revenge scrapbooks on ways she’ll get even with her long-time nemesis. Before it’s over, she even joins Kat on the case. Another example of character craftsmanship is DC, Kat’s best friend and co-worker. He is, perhaps, the most interesting of all the supporting characters. With his fashion savvy and his cat therapist, DC has a flair for the dramatic.  As Kat’s figurative and literal sidekick, he is in the middle of all the action. When he turns superhero–complete with costume–Kat even has to engineer a complicated rescue scheme to get him away from what he believes are Russian mobsters. Kat’s other co-workers won’t disappoint either with super-timid Henry, gothic Meg, Marshall the perv, and Sam the tattooed, motorcycle-riding, aspiring chef.

Armed with outstanding fashion sense, her minor in biology from Harvard, and uncanny random facts that she spouts whenever she is nervous, Kat Waters is an absolutely unique and memorable character herself. She has spent her entire life being pampered and made to feel special. Her life was exactly on the expected trajectory, great job, correct fiance, and her numerous pairs of expensive shoes. She never dreamed she’d be literally penniless and working in a morgue to keep Grand and her mother off the streets, and though her mother doesn’t really respect Kat’s work with the dead, Kat is learning the importance of her job in a way she never expected. She is discovering that she is much more than a two-time Miss Missouri winner in the best makeup category, and she is certainly not the mob princess the media has portrayed her to be. She is a woman who refuses to abandon those she loves and one who willingly gives up own dreams to keep together the family she has remaining. After the girl’s body is stolen on her watch, she transitions that attitude into her need to find the Jane Doe. While initially her amatuer investigation stems from her suspension and punishment at work, her search evolves into a quest for justice for a string of prostitutes similarly murdered by a serial killer six months prior. She refuses to let these women remain victims of a faceless killer and is determined to have their stories told regardless of the risk to herself. She won’t let flirty reporters, sinfully handsome ex-army guys, or psycho stalkers get in her way, and she’ll do it while looking fabulously!

From the county morgue to a dominatrix kink house posing as a barber shop turned therapist’s office, this novel is one crazy adventure after another! Mystery lovers will not be disappointed.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.