Perfect is Overrated by Karen Bergreen (St. Martin’s Griffin; 308 pages; $14.99).
Most authors do not know how to use humor in their storytelling. Their attempts at comedy fall flat or come out all wrong. Karen Bergreen, though, is not like those writers.
Bergreen is a stand-up comic who has appeared on Court TV, Comedy Central, Oxygen, and on Law & Order. That is just her “second” career. She is a former attorney who also clerked for a federal judge. Bergreen is smack-dab in the midst of undertaking yet another vocation: author. Her latest laugh-out-loud murder mystery is called Perfect is Overrated; she previously wrote Following Polly.
In Perfect is Overrated, Bergreen’s comedic timing is impeccably spot-on. After the mother of one of her daughter’s preschool classmates is murdered, Kate Alger remembers meeting her for the first time. The mothers and their daughters were sitting in a waiting area of the preschool’s admissions office. Beverly offered her daughter, Bitsy, some hummus. Molly, Kate’s daughter, thought the woman would offer her some, too. “She’s not sick, is she?” Beverly asked, anxiously. “Bitsy doesn’t like germs.” Beverly made it clear to little Molly that the food was for Bitsy and she could not have any. Kate instead offered Molly old saltine crackers from her purse. Beverly was horrified, “Ooh, you do salt?” Beverly then turned to Bitsy: “Bitsy, sweetie. Mommy is going to help Bitsy out of her stroller. And then Bitsy can give Mommy a kiss. Mommy loves Bitsy.” And then Bitsy threw up on Beverly. “Molly took the second saltine out of its plastic wrap and handed it to the little girl.” See what I mean? Bergreen knows instinctively where to position humor in her storytelling.
But Perfect is Overrated is not all punch-lines and laughter. Kate once had the perfect life. She was an assistant district attorney who loved her job and was married to Paul, a gorgeous cop. The couple was overjoyed to be expecting their first child. Molly’s premature arrival and her touch-and-go first weeks of life irrevocably changed all that. Kate developed postpartum depression, and nothing, not even Molly, could pull her from the black depths of despair. Paul knew how to deal with perps but he had no clue how to handle an emotional and despondent wife. They divorced. He moved into an apartment right above his ex and their daughter.
Kate finally finds a cure for her postpartum blues when someone begins murdering the wealthy, snobby, seemingly perfect moms in Molly’s class. Paul and Kate’s old boss are on the case. Kate is hungry for information and launches her own investigation, which includes breaking into Paul’s computer and doing some snooping in her old boss’ office. Kate gets more than she ever bargained for, though, when she discovers she could be next.
Because Bergreen knows the law, the plot to Perfect is Overrated is true to life. She knows the ins and outs of police procedure and how to build a case against a perpetrator. Because she also knows comedy, the story is funny, too. Case in point: when the killer is finally in police custody, the accused describes one of the murders. “She answered the door in a stupid Chanel suit, which, I’m sorry, is so over. Coco is dead, lady. Buy de la Renta.” I think I can honestly say that I have never read a funnier mystery.
Bergreen’s two careers, law and comedy, come together in this novel. It’s a good marriage, one that I hope is long-lasting. May she never stray.