Over His Dead Body
About 25 pages into Over His Dead Body – subtitled “a novel of sweet revenge” – I realized it reminded me strongly of something. It took me another 25 pages to recognize that while the plot details are quite different, the ironic, somewhat farcical tone/style, and some of the novel’s themes are highly reminiscent of Jennifer Crusie’s Fast Women. Of the two books about mature women facing down their history and past habits in order to move forward in their lives, I prefer Fast Women (an A- read for me), but Over His Dead Body still has much to recommend it.
Cassie Sales is a fifty-year old wife and mother of two grown children who is undergoing a personal crisis of confidence. She and her husband Mitch are still together, but since Mitch travels constantly for business and they haven’t had sex in years, for all intents and purposes their marriage is one of name only. Lonely, scared, bored, and worried about the future, Cassie decides to take a drastic step to improve her appearance and self-confidence by having extreme plastic surgery while Mitch is out of town. Cassie believes Mitch won’t approve and she’s right. When he arrives home early from his trip and sees the swollen, bruised, and stitched Frankenstein-like visage of his still-healing wife, he collapses on the spot.
He hasn’t passed out from the shock, Mitch has had a stroke and winds up in a coma. All of a sudden, Cassie has to learn about and deal with a myriad of details about their personal affairs, of which she knows nothing since she trusted Mitch with everything. What she gradually uncovers is that her husband has a girlfriend, was planning to divorce her, has multiple credit cards in her name with outrageously high charges on them, and his company is being audited by the IRS.
The wonder is that these discoveries, one on top of the other, don’t send our intrepid heroine into a coma of her own. Who is the girlfriend? Who has Mitch’s power of attorney if he never wakes up? What is Mitch’s attorney keeping from her? Why does the IRS auditor keep pestering her? What should she do about these bogus charge accounts?
Cassie, much like Nell Dysart from Fast Women, is a woman forced to awaken from the long sleep that has been her steady, complacent life. As Nell was blasted out of her inertia by the actions of her louse of a husband, we witness the same awakening in Cassie Sales, with some different results. Of the two heroines, I think Cassie is a somewhat weaker character, inconsistent and troublingly passive even in some of the book’s major moments. It perhaps makes sense, given that the meek housewife role Cassie has inhabited for so long can’t be shed quickly, but her insubstantiality detracts from the charm of Over His Dead Body.
A few early scenes in which an extremely insecure Cassie begs comatose Mitch’s pardon for her surgery and other imagined sins (overlooking his far more serious crimes) made me want to scream at her in frustration, though her actions were certainly in character. To Cassie’s credit, she gains strength with each troubling decision she has to face, and comes out of her difficulties as a far more confident, powerful woman. Nonetheless, I thought some of the other characters were better drawn and more interesting than Cassie, though they weren’t as sympathetic.
The “hero” of Over His Dead Body, oddly enough, is the IRS auditor with the noteworthy name of Charlie Schwab. Acting on a tip from an informant inside Mitch’s company, Charlie is sent to investigate the wine importing business for tax evasion and potential money laundering. He’s a fun character with enough depth to make him interesting. He plays the hard-nosed accountant wonk with relish when needed, but Charlie is really just a decent guy with a passion for the truth. He’s determined to find the truth in the Sales case, whatever it takes, but he’s increasingly uneasy about it because of his attraction to Cassie.
This mutual attraction is a problem for our intrepid investigator since Charlie isn’t sure he can believe a word Cassie says. Could she truly have had no idea what her husband was up to? Can he trust her? While he tries to figure it out, he plays both ends against the middle with panache. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the duo wind up working together in some instances to crack the case, and oppose each other whole-heartedly in others. Their crackling exchanges are funny and direct.
Despite the winning character of Charlie and the slow growth of Cassie into an independent woman to respect, my favorite character by far in Over His Dead Body is Mitch’s girlfriend. I won’t be a spoiler and reveal her identity since part of the fun to be had in this novel is watching Cassie both figure it out and deal with her. I will say that the girlfriend is a real hoot. Shamelessly egocentric, cunning, manipulative, ambitious, greedy – this is a villain with style, and most of it is bad. She’s a fully fleshed-out character, too, which is a nice treat. The funniest moments in Over His Dead Body belong to her, and I would recommend this book for this character alone, if for no other reason.
I found Cassie and Mitch’s two children to be singularly annoying, whiny and needy and unable to see beyond their own perspective on any issue. How Cassie didn’t knock their heads together on a few occasions is beyond me. They do serve their plot functions, Though, and their bad behavior can be viewed as yet another consequence of her habitual passivity. Happily, Cassie finally does stand up to them both.
On the whole, Over His Dead Body is a quick, breezy read with some laugh-out-loud moments and others that made me grit my teeth in annoyance with the heroine. The plot mysteries are satisfactorily resolved, and what little romance occurs is fun to go along with for the ride. If you have a few hours to spare, liked Fast Women, and need a laugh (along with a few early tears), Over His Dead Body may fit the bill for you. Spring break’s in full gear – this one would make a good beach book.