A review of The Missing Comatose Woman, by Sarah Ettritch


ONLINE SUMMARYPrivate eye Casey Cook lands her first case, and it’s a doozy: find a missing comatose woman. Eager to prove herself, Casey does whatever it takes to get answers, from pretending to be pregnant to fawning over a hairless cat.

As she runs into one dead end after another, Casey wonders whether she should have left her retail job. Determined to show that she can do the PI thing, Casey refuses to give up, chases down every lead, and snags herself a girlfriend along the way.

MY REVIEW — I came across this one while browsing the titles at sapphicabooks.net. The cover screamed “cozy mystery,” which isn’t exactly — or even remotely — my cup of tea. The title and the brief description were enough to pique my interest, though. I immediately asked myself the same question as does our protag, fledgling PI Casey Cook: Why would someone kidnap a comatose woman?

Casey has left her job at Walmart and gotten her PI’s license. Bit of a stretch? Sure, but anything beats Wally World, right? Problem is, she’s yet to get her first case, and, among other things, she’s imagining the way her friends are gonna rag on her for not being able to make a go of things after the time and money she’s invested getting her license. Some friends, huh? Enter the daughter of the snatched sleeper and suddenly Casey has a paying client. Plenty of plot twists, mostly potential clues that lead nowhere, hold your interest, and there’s a nice budding romance between Casey and Emily, a barista at her favorite coffee shop.

Casey is an engaging character, for the most part, and though she’s a newbie in her profession, and is, just maybe, in over her head, she soldiers on, partly out of loyalty to her client and partly to avoid her friends’ I-told-you-so comments.  Also, as she has some serious self-worth issues, she needs to prove to herself that she can succeed at “the PI thing.” She does seem to have a helpful head for details, and a stick-to-itiveness that proves to be an asset. She’s funny without being over-the-top silly, likeable — again, for the most part, about which more later — and I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more about her should the author decide to turn this into a series. She reminds me just a bit of Jae Baeli’s Jobeth O’Brien in her AKA Investigations series, especially in Book One of that saga; Jobe has also left a dead-end job and started her own investigative business.

My favorite character, however, is Emily, who’s been interested in Casey for a while, though the latter’s gaydar seems hopelessly out of whack. Emily’s also smart and funny, and determined to not let Casey get away. Something about her reminds me a little of Michaela in Kate Genet’s Michaela and Trisha novels and  the relationship is similar, too, with the very bright college student Emily akin to Michaela and the rather too self-deprecating Casey like Trisha. Supporting characters are interesting, colorful additions, particularly Casey’s gram.

I appreciated that the nascent romance doesn’t intrude on the mystery element, but serves merely to punctuate it. This contributes to the novel’s successful pacing. I also like that duo want to proceed slowly. I have absolutely nothing against sex, even if graphically presented, in a story, but here, it would have been totally out of character with the personae the author has drawn.

Ettritch’s fast, easy-to-read narrative uses limited third person POV centering around Casey. This works well as it allows us to follow the progress of both her investigation and her growing attraction to Emily without any digressions. The overall writing style is humorous and that suits the cozy mystery story well and also fits the characters’ personalities. There aren’t any truly laugh-out-loud moments à la Kate Allen’s Alison Kaine series, but that’s okay, I think; not everybody can carry off that sort of thing with the skill Allen displayed. The amount and type of humor in The Missing Comatose Woman is just right.

One of my favorite scenes: Casey’s “date” with Leah, on whom she’s been crushing for a long time. Turns out Leah is totally self-centered, oblivious to anything not about herself and interested in sex, pure and simple, while Casey likes to know someone better before slipping between the sheets. (“ ‘You’re so cute,’ Leah said with a giggle. ‘I’m liking this idea more and more. What do you need to know?’ Her last name, for a start— hopefully very early on in their relationship”)

The plotting is consistent and you care enough about the mystery and the characters to keep you reading. Ettritch is particularly good at characterization and realistic dialogue. The passages between Casey and Emily are especially well-written and the dialogue just right. More descriptive detail throughout would have been nice, though there’s still a feeling of realism without it.

My general feeling about The Missing Comatose Woman is positive. A couple of reviewers on goodreads described it as fluff, but I find that a little harsh. A cozy mystery, certainly, but with more substance than “fluff” might suggest. That said, if I may be permitted a quibble ot three:

Most, if not all, US states require as much as three years experience with a licensed investigative firm or government investigative agency before granting a PI’s license. I doubt the rules in Canada are all that different, and this makes Casey’s status as such an extreme neophyte unlikely. Secondly, although I understand that Casey’s self-worth problems are one of the themes at work here, the point seems belabored, especially vis-a-vis Emily. (Why would such a hot, smart woman be interested in a former Walmart associate/ PI wannabe?) It gives Casey an “oh, poor me” feeling that makes her less engaging simply because it’s so frequently mentioned. Finally, while the writing is fluid and grammatically sound, there’s some repetition that I found annoying. For example, during Casey’s disastrous dinner date with Leah, we get “Pizza for dinner twice in a row. Good thing she loved it;” then during her outing with Emily, “Apart from having pizza yet again— thank god she loved the stuff.” There are several similar incidences.

I have a bigger problem with the ending, however. Casey doesn’t actually solve the case; instead, the mystery is explained to her after she’s been (easily) kidnapped, a deus ex machina conclusion which is very unsatisfying.

Despite the objections noted above, The Missing Comatose Woman was a quick, entertaining read with very likable characters. A pleasurable way to pass a couple of ideas hours if you’re looking for something that’s not all angst-y and dripping with gore.