WENDI LEE – Habeas Campus. Worldwide; paperback reprint, February 2003. Hardcover edition: St.Martin’s Press, 2002.

   This one was a disappointment, to put it as mildly as I can. Wendi Lee, also a writer of westerns, is the author of four other mysteries about her Boston-based private eye Angela Matelli, so this drab and unbelievable outing came as quite a surprise, if not an out-and-out shocker.

WENDI LEE

   It might be the subject matter. Here’s the first line: “If my family had known that I was going up to Vermont to fight zombies, they would have slapped me in an institution so fast it would have made my head spin.”

   There’s a lot of scientific talk in the book about Haitian poisons and antidotes to back up the premise that zombies (the walking undead) indeed do exist, but if you were to check it out on Google, you’d soon discover that the evidence is largely anecdotal and (to say the least) extremely controversial.

   In any case, Lee’s job was to convince me that people can be transformed into zombies, and that they could be put to work in sweatshops or behind the counters at McDonalds. (You’re kidding me, right?) She also wanted me to believe that a body could somehow go missing from a college town’s morgue without a huge outcry being made. Just a prank by some fraternity kids? I don’t think so.

   I also thought that the plan for Angela Matelli, an ex-Marine and nearly 30, to go undercover as a student at Hartmore College, living in an undergraduate dorm, registering just before midterm, was, well, rather uninspired (if not highly unlikely).

   The writing is hardly better. Two paragraphs on page 16 say exactly the same thing. The dialogue is bad. From page 31: “This is why I didn’t tell you everything over the phone. I knew you would jump to the conclusion that this is some sort of weird situation.” On page 40, another two paragraphs (concerning Matelli’s phoney registration as a student) repeat themselves.

   Back in her own stomping grounds, surrounded by family and friends, Angie Matelli’s basic perkiness and good nature might come off to greater advantage. They don’t here, I’m sorry to say.

— March 2003



[UPDATE] 03-30-09.   For more on Angela Matelli and some more on the other books by her creator, Wendi Lee, you might check out the former’s data page on the Thrilling Detective website. Habeas Corpus was her last appearance in print.

   Based on both the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, and her dossier on Kevin Burton Smith’s website (above), here’s her complete bibliography:

ANGELA MATELLI. [Wendi Lee]

    Novels:

      The Good Daughter. St. Martinís 1995.

WENDI LEE

      Missing Eden. St. Martinís 1996.
      Deadbeat. St. Martinís 1999.
      He Who Dies. St. Martinís 2000.

WENDI LEE

      Habeas Campus. St. Martin’s 2002.

   Short stories:

       “Salad Days” (Noir, Winter 1994)
       “The Disappearance of Edna Guberman” (Murder For Mother, 1994)
       “Check Up” (Lethal Ladies, 1996)
       “The Other Woman” (Vengeance Is Hers, 1997)