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A mystery among perfect moms comes loaded with wit

Goodnight Nobody, By Jennifer Weiner, Atria, 376 pp., $26

Were it not for the murder mystery that dominates the plot, ''Goodnight Nobody" would be a saga about desperate housewives trapped in the suburbs, a ''Peyton Place" for the 21st century, only more modern, hip, and funny than the original.

Best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner (''Good in Bed," ''In Her Shoes," ''Little Earthquakes") sets the story in fictitious Upchurch, Conn., where Kate Klein has found herself with her three children and among a set of superior supermommies who are whippet-thin, manicured, pedicured, coiffured, and dressed to a fare-thee-well even at the playground. Still suffering withdrawal symptoms from an exciting life as a writer in New York, Kate is about to be overcome by boredom until she discovers one of these perfect women face-down on her kitchen floor with a Henckels knife in her back.

She can't help but get involved in solving the crime, and along the way she discovers that almost all of her perfect neighbors have serious flaws underneath the makeup, especially the victim Kitty Cavanaugh. ''Goodnight Nobody" has everything a murder mystery is supposed to have -- a surprise in every chapter -- but it is written with such wit that the mystery itself is almost superfluous.

Kate's view on life and on her situation in the suburbs is knowledgeable, sarcastic, and funny. When one of the supermoms says, ''I think we have a friend in common," Kate replies, ''I rinsed off my hands and wiped them on my thighs. 'Oh? Who's that?' For one giddy moment I was completely sure that she was going to say Jesus, and that I'd be stuck listening to a soliloquy about her personal relationship with the Savior and how I needed one myself."

Kate's best friend and former Greenwich Village roommate Jane, who's single, still in the city, prettier and sexier and a bit wilder than Kate, provides even more comic relief. If ''Goodnight Nobody," like ''In Her Shoes," makes it to the big screen, whoever plays Jane will doubtless have a head start in the running for a best supporting actress Oscar.

Kate's husband is a workaholic. Her first boyfriend, the love of her life, is newly single and involved in the convolutions of the mystery, which leads him to see her again. There is a suicide, a heroin overdose, a stroller-jacking, a plethora of affairs, and a missing father. And everywhere she moves in her sleuthing, Kate finds more dirt.

The novel's title comes from the children's book that Kate reads to her tots, but it also refers to how Kate feels about herself as a suburban mom: ''I became invisible." Perhaps Weiner's success as a novelist is due partly to the fact that so many women can relate to the sorts of circumstances she describes.

But she makes them funnier.

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