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Mon. Sep 16th, 2019

Read 4 Fun

Read the short reviews, read the book, comment

Too Many Crimes, Too Many Characters

4 min read

Murder is Secondary (A Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mystery) by Diane Weiner is one in a series of nine novels. The About the Author section notes this is a cozy mystery. I have never been sure what that is. In searching for a definition, I found that there is generally an almost absence of sex and violence but there is some sort of mystery that is supposed to appeal to intelligent women. Also, the mystery typically takes place in a community where everybody knows everybody. This sounds like the TV series Murder She Wrote. I hope no one minds if I occasionally spy on what intelligent women are reading.

This novel is set in a small community. Drivers of the novel are Susan and Mike, a married couple that seems to be at a comfortable place in life. Readers don’t know their exact age, but Susan is a recently retired school teacher with a daughter who is a detective on the local police force. Mike still works but seems to have flexible hours at the Westbrook City Hall. As the novel opens the couple is doing a somewhat comfortable morning run when they get a call that one of their closest friends, Tank, a teacher at the school where Susan worked, has been charged with sexual harassment. Perhaps it was a vindictive student.

What follows is a character discussion of “guilty until proven innocent.” Such a serious incident is reported to the police for investigation by Detective Lynnette, daughter of Susan. Throughout the novel, Lynette will work hard to keep Susan from doing amateur investigations of this crime and other associated crimes that will pop up. Susan will ignore the advice and will constantly come up with clues to solve various crimes. Susan has solved crimes before (previous novels) and had lots of time on her hands as a retiree.

In this novel, we have sexual harassment, spousal abuse, murder, embezzlement, identity theft, marital infidelity, conspiracy to commit a crime, pregnancy in the workplace, unwanted pregnancy, Alzheimer disease, road rage, natural death, blackmail, plagiarism for gain, and the discovery of adopted child status. My observation, this novel tries too hard. With everything going on, murder is truly secondary. The novel only has 189 pages. This is not a small, intimate community that I want to live in.

Looking at the issue of domestic or spousal abuse, the issue is examined “in character” by at least three principal characters through dialogue. I have no problem with this, to explore such an issue is warranted. On page 55 in the Kindle edition, two women are in a spa when they witness an altercation between a man and woman (possible girlfriend) in which the man strikes the woman. What follows is a spirited rant about how domestic violence is never alright. Although correct, there is no need for this scene. We never know anything more about the two or the possible reasons for what happened; the couple never reappears. The issue of spousal abuse is well covered in the story without this scene.

There is so much going on in this novel that, inevitably, there are a lot of characters. For the most part, they work well together, and it is not confusing. On page 35, Julie is explaining to Susan why one student’s behavior had changed so much for the worse. Danny’s mother got sick (cancer) and died. That is when Danny “turned bad.” However, p.35 tells us Joey was devastated by the death. It would be quite a stretch to justify this as other than a typo. I see this as an easy error to overlook in a story with so many characters.

Despite the “busyness” of the novel, I liked the story. As I began reading, I was almost humming the themes of Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet. And then the town fell apart. There may be no sex or violence but the mental images that accompany “Death by Bulldozer” are not all that cozy. I can suspend disbelief when it comes to the improbable coincidences which happen to allow Susan to find clues. In a paraphrase {I just entered her house to feed the cat and found the document under the son’s bed.} My favorite genres are horror and weird; I have no problem with suspending disbelief for the sake of a good story.

And there is one unforgivable couple of sentences that require a quote:

“That was a beautiful (baby) shower you gave Lynette,” said Julie. “It’s too bad that you had to find a dead body in the Jacuzzi the next morning––that must have been horrible––but aside from that, Lynette will always remember that night.” (p. 143).

You have got to be kidding me.

I purchased this novel on Amazon for USD 0.99. It is available of Kindle Unlimited. Because of the inclusion of an unnecessary scene (my opinion) and the confusion in character names I gave this novel three Amazon stars. I am tempted to read another novel from this series as soon as I finish the construction of an outbuilding for my TBR pile.

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