Generally speaking, mystery’s not my thing. Mysteries tend to be suspenseful and scary, and I avoid suspenseful and scary like politics, reality tv, and flaming pokers in my eyes. Critique partner, MB, is all about mysteries, though, and she so very much wants our group to discuss this book she actually put it into my hands when she came to Anchorage last month. So I read it.
This is why I seek book recommendations from friends and why I take chances on books, reading things based on seemingly random and minute reasons–the cover was a fabulous purple, the author’s name rhymes with “hurricane.” In short: I loved it!
Eighteen-year-old Christopher takes a job at the morgue the summer before he starts college. He accidentally witnesses a murder cover-up. Compelled to investigate–and maybe to right the wrong–he joins forces with brash newspaper reporter, Tina, to uncover the cover-up. Murder, of course, is a dangerous thing to get involved with, and Christopher finds himself followed, threatened, beat up, and possibly putting his family and friends in danger, too.
Does that sound like your normal detective novel? Maybe it is; I don’t read them, so I don’t know. If it is, it’s brilliantly executed. First, the main character’s voice is great. He sounds like a normal, smart eighteen-year-old. He’s not in-your-face cool, uber-geeky-intelligent, or wimp-turned-superhero. He’s just a guy, with the normal mix of confidence and uncertainty. He’s got a dry sense of humor I find appealing.
Second, Christopher’s relationship with Tina could easily have gone wrong. She’s hot and he’s easy prey. The presence of a more appropriate but failed romantic match in the background might have opened the door to all sorts of relationship issues (jealousy, competition, etc.), but John C. Ford keeps it relatively real. He allows the characters to remain mostly good. When you’ve got an eighteen-year-old investigating murder do you really need to ramp up the romance or sex? I don’t think so. And neither does the author. Tina turns out to be more than a cardboard character. She’s got a bit of depth, and her relationship with Christopher turns out to be a satisfying thing, a strength for the novel.
Third, and finally, the plot is just plain fantastic. It twists and turns and surprises as a mystery plot should, and all the pieces fit together in the end. While I have no desire to write mysteries, this book makes me want to study mystery plotting. MB is great at it, and I suspect that will be the focus of our group discussion. Surely that kind of plotting is relevant to other kinds of stories.
Finishing a good book always makes me a little sad; I’m sorry the ride is over. But this one isn’t over. There’s a whole discussion forthcoming. Yay!
So…what are you reading?