Read May 2020 Recommended for no one. ★
You would think that at my age, I would be smarter than to fall for a marketing line that claims “A GOLDEN AGE COUNTRY HOUSE MURDER MYSTERY BROUGHT BANG UP TO DATE, Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz.”
I beg to differ. I have’t read anything this overwrought since ‘Chasing Embers’ by James Bennett.. “You surely jest,” you say. ‘Oh no,’ I claim, and proceed to demonstrate.
“It happened when the snow first fell, violet white, branding our eyes with its glare and covering our steps almost as soon as we had lifted our feet. The cold bit deep into our faces and when we opened our mouths to speak, snow singed our tongues. The wind laced round our legs as we leaned into the fierce air.”
I’d question ‘violet white’ snow, but let’s let it slide. Snow definitely doesn’t ‘brand with glare’ and the metaphor doesn’t match the cold feeling Dowd is going for. Couple that with ‘singing.’ She might be wanting to get at ‘so cold it was burning,’ but this is a group of book club ladies walking outside a mansion, not explorers in the Arctic. It’s overwrought and silly. Wind ‘lacing’ around legs is a look, not an action.
Our narrator looks out a “greasy car window” and noted that “the house stood ashen faced amongst it all.” Then, the sun starts to set: “A translucent sun was falling in the sky, casting only an insipid light. We were at the hinged point of the day when darkness was stirring and would soon turn over into dusk. The day was unravelling.”
How did the window get greasy? is what I was wondering here. And what scared the house that it looks ashen, or is it just anemic? But where I really got stuck is the three different metaphors crunched together for describing a sunset: a hinge, cooking and knitting.
Then there’s the three pages our narrator spends describing her dead father’s smoking habit.
Add to this that although we are teased with the dead body in the first scene, the actual lead in and discovery doesn’t take place until 27%. Agatha Christie this ain’t. I finally quit with relief.
It turns out this isn’t a mystery at all. This is an overgrown narrator who relentlessly exaggerates and meanly describes her mother, an aunt, an ‘adopted’ aunt, and another of her mom’s friends, along with two mansion servants, all in context of her own historical relationship issues. It’s supposed to be biting and incisive, but really it’s mostly like an adolescent learning to use irony for the first time. She seems to be working out her family issues about her perfect dead father and her cold, unfeeling mother. There was literally nothing “thriller” about it, except if you mean the piano mysteriously playing her dad’s favorite tune. Until the 27%, in fact, most of the story took place in retrospect, with the narrator telling stories about how horrible each of these people were, and how wonderful her memories of her father were.
Worst marketing campaign ever, Jaffe. Had your team said anything about “troubled new adult working out her anger for her mother and loss of her father while witnessing the antagonism at her mother’s hateful book club,” I would have known to pass. It don’t recommend it to anyone, except masochists who like watching people be mean to each other.
Advance copy provided by Netgalley and Joffe Books and all opinions are definitely my own.