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Princess of chick-lit aims to rule the realm of mystery, too

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The cover of Jennifer Weiner's new book, "Goodnight Nobody," has the telltale marketable stamp of the chick-lit genre: a curvaceous woman displaying an alluring pair of slender legs. The sexy image has little to do with the story, but with Weiner's track record of three best-selling novels, it's no wonder the publishers stuck with the tried and true.

In actuality, Weiner stands out among the chick-lit pack and continues to do so with "Goodnight," her first murder mystery. The novel opens with its witty, plus-size heroine, Kate Klein, finding a neighbor in her seemingly perfect suburban Connecticut town of Upchurch dead in a pool of blood in the kitchen.

Fans will be relieved to know that while the genre has shifted, Weiner's natural storytelling, sardonic humor and vivid characters remain.

Kate is a former New York entertainment reporter turned restless and lonely housewife and mother. After absorbing the shock of finding one of "the mommy collective" with a knife in her back, Kate finds an outlet for her boredom and unhappiness by trying to solve the crime. But she risks an already troubled relationship with her workaholic husband, Ben, and even the safety of her three young children, to find the murderer.

What makes Weiner's novels so appealing to her faithful female readership are her themes: the unrealized expectations of physical beauty; the daily joys and frustrations of pregnancy, motherhood and marriage; and the struggle to find balance and keep one's identity.

Between caring for her children and running a household, the only self-care Kate manages involves throwing on "cheap, sloppy clothes" that make her look like "Shamu in a sweater set" and prepping a dinner of frozen fish sticks and chardonnay in a plastic cup.

The lively characters and plot appear screenplay-ready. And why not? Her novel "In Her Shoes" is in movie theaters, and her first novel, "Good in Bed," has been optioned by HBO for a TV series. Plenty of chick-lit authors end up as one-hit wonders, lost among shelves of pink paperbacks, but even after book No. 4, Weiner is saying goodnight to nobody.

Title: "Goodnight Nobody"

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Publisher: Atria

Cost: $26

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Copyright ©2004 Saint Paul Pioneer Press. All Rights Reserved.

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