An out-of-work journalist ghosts a memoir only to risk becoming a spirit herself.
Ditched by her dentist husband for munching too many Baby Ruths, Lauren Prescott is just about keeping afloat writing for Houston City Magazine when it folds. Against her better judgment, she agrees to expand her latest article, the story of Caroline Marshall, Queen of Dumpster Diving, into a full-length book. Although imperious Caroline insists on taking all the credit herself, since Lauren’s just taking her ideas and rewriting them, Lauren finds it quite a challenge to make Caroline’s tips on budget-stretching readable. The alumni of Caroline’s Living Frugally class seem like a bunch of losers: Josie and Ed, who forage deli snacks; homeschooling parents Margaret and Ethan, who live on what they grow; hoarder Pat Holly, who never met a piece of furniture she didn’t take home; and physicist Nathan Evans, whose knowledge of poisonous plants far exceeds his social skills. Prickly Mary Alice (10) Hatcher seems the most promising ex-student for Lauren to interview until she keels over dead during a potluck dinner at Caroline’s house. Lauren labors on despite the concern of Paul O’Neal, her former editor and present boyfriend. But as the corpse count rises and daughters Katie and Emily join the investigation, she starts to wonder whether she should dump the concept of living frugally and just hold onto the prospect of living longer.
Stuyck’s follow-up to Lauren’s debut (Fit to Die, 2006) fleshes out her heroine’s profile, but it’s still too early to tell whether Lauren is a keeper.