Books Are Pretty

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Consigned to Death.

I have to be honest, mystery novels are not my area of expertise. The only detectives I know well are Encyclopedia Brown and Frank and Joe Hardy, and 25 years have gone by since I read the roughly 91,289 books published about the adventures of the those young sleuths. By now, I’m rusty. Very, very rusty.

Because of this gap in my literary knowledge, reading Jane Cleland’s debut novel Consigned to Death raised more questions for me than it answered. Is this a good mystery novel? Is it a promising beginning to a long series featuring the plucky protagonist, antiques dealer Josie Prescott? How much, exactly, does it help Jane Cleland that she managed to write her mystery without the help of a pet cat? (Actually, I can answer that one: A lot. It helps a lot.)

The premise is this: Josie Prescott keeps an appointment with wealthy businessman Richard Grant to go over heirlooms he planned to sell. She arrives at his home and rings the bell, but no one answers. When sexy police chief Ty Alvarez shows up at her store later in the day, Prescott is shocked to find out that Grant has been murdered, and even more shocked to find out she is the prime suspect.
Armed with her loyal staff, ace attorney Max, and cub newspaper reporter Wes, Prescott swings into action and investigates the crime herself with the hopes of clearing her name. Thrown into the mix are a myriad people who could be suspects – Paula, her sullen employee, Bernard and Martha, her chief competitors in the New Hampshire antiques world, and Grant’s drug addicted daughter Andi, who has a monkey on her back and an axe to grind.

The clues trickle in one by one, secrets are discovered, mysteries are either revealed to explain or revealed to expose even more mystery, until the very last chapter, where it all boils down to two essential questions: Will the killer be caught? And will Josie get it on with sexy police chief Alvarez?

Technically, the book does what I assume a mystery novel is supposed to do: Mr. Boddy is found dead in his home, all the clues are carefully examined, and careful questions eliminate suspects. Finally it is revealed that Miss Peacock did it in the library with the candlestick. It’s even got one up on Hasbro, because it’s explained why Miss Peacock cracked open Mr. Boddy’s head.

But is it a good example of the genre? Because I had nothing to compare it to, I didn’t know. I had to check out what other reviewers were saying. Avoiding Amazon’s reader reviews (I assume Cleland’s friends and family liked it well enough), I checked out Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Both gave it high praise; so I have to conclude that if you’re a fan of mystery novels, in particular mystery novels with female protagonists, you may really enjoy Consigned to Death. If, on the other hand, whodunits aren’t your thing, it's unlikely that this is the book that’s going to change your mind about the genre.

Consigned to Death
By Jane Cleland
2006 St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, 276 pages
ISBN: 0-312-34725-1

| StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!