A So-So Mystery
Author: Andrea Carter
Gavin Featherstone, a best-selling author, is finally leaving his self-imposed reclusive lifestyle to once again bathe in the limelight, this time garnering interest for his soon to be published autobiography. He is debuting at Glendara’s local literary festival, side-by-side with an up-and-coming feminist short story author, when a poisoned glass of water leaves him gasping and dying in front of his shocked audience. As the investigation unfurls, it becomes evident that many people wanted the sometimes charismatic, sometimes brusque author dead: his estranged wife, his rejected children, his suspicious new assistant, his rejected lovers, authors and critics he destroyed, and a few people from his past with an axe to grind.
Meanwhile, local solicitor Benedicta “Ben” O’Keefe is working to sort through the deceased author’s will, manage bitter relatives, keep her relationship with the police sergeant secret, and protect her parents from a suspicious lodger. Ben is only tangentially involved with Featherstone, but circumstances have put her in a position to know and suspect more. Does she have the key to solving the author’s last words, or is she an unwitting suspect?
Death Writes is the sixth book in the Inishowen Mystery series. It stands on its own (indeed, this is the first and only book that I’ve read in the series). The main sleuth is, of course, local solicitor Ben, who is attempting to keep her off-the-record (and on-again-off-again) relationship with the local police sergeant secret while getting further insight into police operations and ongoing investigations. I suspect that Ben’s character development and her relationship with the sergeant were key to early books, because here we are expected to already have an investment and few new revelations come along. Ben is merely there, oddly interested in a mystery that has little to no practical application to her daily life. It’s strange to see her get so involved, and since her character is not really revealed or developed, it’s difficult to get emotionally invested. She’s just there, doing things and uncovering things as an afterthought. She is more a catalyst than vibrant character, which for a tied-together series isn’t good, because it shows lack of consistent character development. For a supposedly stand-alone book, it’s also not good, since it makes an emotional attachment to the main character difficult. We read more to be reading than because we care about the story.
The one aspect that I did find more interesting in Death Writes was Ben’s parent’s houseguest: a suspicious, somewhat threatening man who seems to have conned Ben’s parent’s out of their home and savings. This starts out as a critical part of the plot and has explosive potential. Where do Ben’s parents know this weird person from, and what does he want with them and their belongings? What are they hiding from Ben? What does this man really want and how far is he willing to go to get it? This is the mystery that grabbed me, more than the demise of a selfish author. Sadly, about halfway through Death Writes it gets dropped, Ben’s parents stop being so shifty, and we are just given the answer in plain, unvarnished text, as though the author lost interest in this side story. The mystery lodger becomes a discarded afterthought.
The investigation into Featherstone is entertaining enough, I suppose, although as I readily mentioned, the reader’s emotional investment is negligible. The story is well enough articled, the list of potential suspects suitably long, the author’s past deeds significantly horrible and dastardly. On the surface, it has interesting aspects and even some nice twists, but overall, I found the story a bit lacking. Perhaps if I’d come into the series from the beginning and was invested in Ben. Perhaps if the beautiful backdrop of Ireland had been more developed, the festival more visual, the characters more nuanced and empathetic, than the interesting aspects of the plot could have captured my heart, instead of my passing attention. Death Writes was okay – neither an exciting nor an offensive book, but I doubt I’ll pick up any of the rest of the series.
– Frances Carden
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