Boca Undercover, by Miriam Auerbach. Bell Bridge Books. 160 pages. Trade paperback $10.95. This slim and sassy novel is the fourth installment in Ms. Auerbach’s Dirty Harriet Mystery Series. Harriet Horowitz, a private investigator, is also a reformed material girl rebelling against the glitzy ostentation of Boca Raton. These days, she embraces the natural beauty of the Everglades and unwinds riding her Harley Hugger. Turning forty, no longer the bedazzled babe she once was, and detoxed from addiction to the trivialities of her former lifestyle, Harriet answers a friend’s call for help.
The friend, Gitta, a patient at a posh “resort spa / drug rehab facility for the rich and famous” known as The Oasis, claims that people are getting killed there. Gitta is frightened. Going undercover by posing as an addict ready to kick her habits, Harriet hopes she can explore Gitta’s suspicions and solve the case. The novel engages readers by describing Harriet’s skills at remaining undercover, at asking the right questions, at sizing people up, and at making fun of both The Oasis and the addicts whom it serves. Such a lavish facility becomes an emblem of Boca/Palm Beach excess.
Auerbach’s satiric treatment is lots of fun. Because she has made Harriet the narrator, we get her impressions first hand in her edgy, smart-mouth style. It isn’t long before events prove Gitta’s fears to be correct. At Harriet and Gitta walk through an arboreal treat known as the Meditation Maze, they come across the body of a teenage boy with hedge clippers planted in his chest. It’s Demarcus Pritchett, a member of the group residing in the adolescent unit. Before the police arrive, Harriet is able to do a cursory examination: in one hand, Demarcus grasped an empty Coke bottle; in the other, half of a torn phone book. Other clues suggest a violent struggle. When Maria Stillwater, medical doctor for The Oasis, comes upon the scene, her only concern is that she may have to postpone her Italian vacation. So, we don’t like her already!
Official and unofficial snooping reveals that the epidemic of death at The Oasis only strikes those from the adolescent unit, and that all of those kids go to the same school. A connection between the head of that special school and the funds that pay for its students’ treatment at The Oasis makes a bell go off in Harriet’s head.
“Boca Undercover” has several other interests besides the mystery plot and Harriet’s intriguing personality. There is the relationship between Harriet and an Israeli boyfriend, Lior, whose visit she is anxiously awaiting, as well as the romance between her friend Gitta and Gitta’s beau, police detective Kevin Reilly. There are those other inmates of The Oasis, some of whom are candidates for the Total Purification Detoxification, a flawed branding effort that makes Harriet think of a colonic. There is Leonard Goldblatt, paramour of Harriet’s mother, a retired CIA agent whose connections are helpful to the investigation. There are the various, more or less peculiar, staff members of the Oasis whose mannerisms and professional roles are targets of Ms. Auerbach’s satire. . . . To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 25, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Auerbach