When Plum Girl begins, we see Lonnie Kelly working as a lowly temp at the Boston law firm of Twit & Bell despite her two master’s degrees, passing time till she hears back from any of the universities where she’s sent her résumé. It is a typical office atmosphere complete with the obnoxious and overbearing boss Beauregard Twit, ‘a less stylish version of The Penguin’ co-boss Lunther Bell, jealous co-worker Delia, and others. Between competently handling all the work heaped upon her and giving her sister Peach all the office gossip, Lonnie is vacillating wildly between her ‘practically semi-boyfriend’ Terry and the sexy, funny and intensely attractive computer geek Dominick who works three floors below her.
While coping with the standard office politics, ignoring Twit’s tendency to call her every ‘L’ name except Lonnie, fending off her determined mother’s unsubtle matchmaking attempts, trying to avoid her sister’s amateur psycho-analysis and worrying about her too-curvy body, Lonnie works and daydreams about Dominick. After some initial botch-ups, she and Dominick seem to have something hot developing when a ghastly thing occurs. At the office Christmas party, when she and Dom go to the coatroom to neck, they literally bump into the dead body of Lunther Bell. From then on, things go from fast to hectic as Lonnie realizes the significance of the weirdness preceding Bell’s death and starts nosing around. Was Bell’s death a planned murder or a heart attack? At this crucial juncture, Terry decides to make a comeback, further complicating Lonnie’s loony but fascinating life.
Newcomer Jill Winters, with her refreshing knack of writing as people speak, has done a first-class job with her first book, Plum Girl (side note - the title comes from the plum-colored lipstick that Lonnie is addicted to). The office politics and the people working there appear to have been taken straight from real life and plopped between the pages. Lonnie is typical of women everywhere – both as a woman who’s experienced her share of bad relationships and as a female working in a typically chauvinistic office environment. She and Dominic bring a lot of sizzle and heat into this mostly comic book. Side characters like Lonnie’s sister Peach and her improve-the-life-of-people-around-me attempts provide humor and entertainment. The mystery is surprisingly difficult to solve with so many viable suspects and so many valid motives. Ms. Winters adroitly mixes comedy with mystery and this, together with vibrant characters, witty dialogue and candid observations, makesPlum Girl a must-read.