Barer, Helen

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Barer, Helen

PERSONAL:

Born in New York, NY. Education: Bennington College, B.A.; New York University, M.A.

ADDRESSES:

Home—New York and Water Mill, NY. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer.

WRITINGS:

Fitness Kills: A Nora Franke Mystery (novel), Five Star (Detroit, MI), 2007.

Has written nonfiction material including cookbooks and television documentaries.

SIDELIGHTS:

Longtime nonfiction writer Helen Barer made her fiction debut with Fitness Kills: A Nora Franke Mystery. This novel is part of a planned series that revolves around Nora, a strong-minded yet vulnerable New York City food writer. As the story begins, Nora has recently broken up with her boyfriend and gained weight from overeating during her subsequent depression. She decides to take an assignment creating a new menu for a health spa in the Baja California section of Mexico, figuring that it will improve her state of mind and help her shed some pounds as well. When a guest is found murdered, Nora turns detective. Nora narrates the story, providing a sardonic look at spa culture as she investigates the mystery.

Barer told Lauren Smith, an interviewer for the Best Book Tour Web site, that she got the idea for novel after visiting a Baja spa and finding it a "classic set-up for a mystery," being a closed environment in which people get to know each other quickly. To another interviewer, Reader Views Web site contributor Tyler R. Tichelaar, she said: "I wondered what would happen if there were a crisis—a crime—at the spa." She told Tichelaar that she expected readers would like Nora. "I think it's easy to identify with Nora (at least I do)," she said. "She's quite attractive but not beautiful; she's round rather than model-thin; she's short; she's funny; and she's smart (sometimes smartalecky). And she doesn't take herself too seriously."

Several reviewers praised this first Nora Franke mystery, while some saw room for improvement. The novel "is a cozy, well-developed who dun-it," reported Cheryl Jeffries on the Web site Heartstrings Reviews, adding: "Barer's prose is unpretentious and perfectly suited to tales of subtle, tension-filled suspense." On the Web site Reader Views, Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson found Fitness Kills "a wickedly funny and intelligent read" and recommended it to "lovers of good mysteries and strong female characters." Harriet Klausner, writing for Best Sellers World, pronounced it "an endearing and charming cozy populated with quirky characters." Kathy Johnson, critiquing for Armchair Interviews, dubbed Barer "a delightful new voice in the mystery genre."

Some commentators thought the mystery was solved too easily and abruptly. "This book lacks the essential tension required to propel a mystery forward," remarked Araminta S. Matthews in the online publication Front Street Reviews. A Kirkus Reviews contributor summed up the novel as "a debut that introduces an intriguing sleuth who needs more room to grow and a harder case to solve." Matthews added that it "is a decent beginning" for Barer, and Nora is an appealing protagonist. "Overall," Matthews related, "this is a great book for people who love food and for women who might relate to the main character."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2007, review of Fitness Kills: A Nora Franke Mystery.

ONLINE

Armchair Interviews,http://reviews.armchairinterviews.com/ (January 12, 2008), Kathy Johnson, review of Fitness Kills.

Best Book Tour,http://www.bestbooktour.com/ (September 10, 2007), Lauren Smith, interview with Helen Barer.

Best Sellers World,http://www.bestsellersworld.com/ (January 12, 2008), Harriet Klausner, review of Fitness Kills.

BookPleasures.com,http://www.bookpleasures.com/ (August 9, 2007), Norm Goldman, interview with Helen Barer.

Front Street Reviews,http://www.frontstreetreviews.com/ (January 12, 2008), Araminta S. Matthews, review of Fitness Kills.

Heartstrings Reviews,http://www.heartstringsreviews.com/ (September 5, 2007), Cheryl Jeffries, review of Fitness Kills.

Helen Barer Home Page,http://www.helenbarer.com (January 12, 2008).

Huntress Reviews,http://www.huntressreviews.com/ (January 12, 2008), Amanda Killgore, review of Fitness Kills.

Mysterical-E,http://www.mystericale.com/ (January 12, 2008), Dawn Dowdle, review of Fitness Kills.

Mysterious Reviews,http://www.mysteriousreviews.com/ (January 12, 2008), review of Fitness Kills.

Reader Views,http://www.readerviews.com/ (September, 2007), Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson, review of Fitness Kills; (January 12, 2008), Tyler R. Tichelaar, interview with Helen Barer.