Reviewer Richard Mann: Richard is a retired CPA, college instructor, and paralegal in Ogden, Utah. He has published over 500 magazine articles and a commercially published e-book, including several book review columns in magazines. He loves to read mysteries, westerns, humor, selected non-fiction, and computer books. To read more from Richard check out his BLOG.
AUTHOR: Duffy Brown
PUBLISHER: Berkley Prime Crime
ISBN: 978-0-698-17802-1 E-book only
This little e-book is a strange item indeed. First, and most important, it is the next installment in the brilliant, hilarious Consignment Shop Series from Duffy Brown. On that basis alone, the release of this …er… book is cause for elation. I have a bit of a problem with the way it turns out, though, which I will tell you about in a minute.
The marketing materials, blurbs, and so forth, tell you this is a “novella,” which is a shorter-than-a-novel long story. It features Walker Boone, the bad-boy romantic interest in the first three books of the series. This time, Walker is the viewpoint character, so we are privileged to know what he is thinking and seeing. All the others are written from the viewpoint of Regan Summerside, the sexy but impetuous owner of a consignment shop. In her earlier adventures, we met the wonderful cast of characters who keep the complex series of wildly unlikely events delighting us, the readers.
After three books, changing the viewpoint character to a male—even temporarily—involves substantial risks. Think about it: Up to this point, Walker Boone is a seeming superhero who somehow knows everything that’s going on. He shows up at just the right moment and saves the heroine—repeatedly. Now, in this story, we will find out what he knows, what he thinks, what he does, and how he does it. The magic (or lack thereof) will be revealed. It may take a lot of the romantic mystique out of the character.
The second risk is that Ms. Brown, the author, may not be up to the challenge of showing us how this amazing man thinks.
Now, let’s talk about the story itself. It opens as Walker’s once-a-week housekeeper calls him when she finds a dead body at another client’s house. The victim is a low-life rich guy whose fingers are in a lot of pies that upset a lot of people. For semi-logical reasons, the police quickly lock in on Walker as the primary suspect.
We encounter three or four people tripping over each other trying to investigate the killing themselves because they know Walker didn’t do it and for other reasons of their own. Of course, our old friend Regan is one of them.
In the defining scene, Regan comes to Walker’s rescue in a nice reversal of the normal way things have worked. She takes Walker’s hat, coat, and hot car and gives Walker her pink scooter (named Princess) and pink helmet with glitter. Walker scoots off to hide, while the police chase Regan in hot pursuit, thinking she is Walker. It’s a wonderful scene.
Now comes the problem I warned you about. The story moves right along, adding suspects and complications, building situations with lots of promise for funny resolutions. Then it stops. It STOPS! Right in the middle of the story! Walker is off hiding somewhere with the scooter. Suspects abound. There are clues everywhere. It’s not fair to just stop and tell us the rest of the story is in the next book. This is not a novella. A novella is a story—you know, beginning, middle, and an end. This is just a lonely beginning. A good one, a fascinating one, yes, but no one told me I was getting a book which was really just the first few chapters of a longer book that will be coming out in a few months. That’s not right, people!
Have you watched an hour-long drama, perhaps an NCIS, that didn’t seem to be wrapping up? Then at the end of the hour, the screen said, “To Be Continued.” I always hate that. This is the same feeling.
To add to the confusion, when the Walker-narrated portion stops in the middle of a page, we are told that the next book, Demise in Denim, will continue the story. Then it gives us a few pages from the start of that book, which continue the story we have been reading, but it is now from Regan’s viewpoint. First we are shocked by the story stopping in mid-stream, followed immediately by an equilibrium-disturbing change in viewpoint for the next few pages. Oh, I was not a happy man when I got to that point.
I think the author’s legion of fans (which includes me!) could blame the publisher for this odd decision to give us an unsatisfying, incomplete story masquerading as a novella. Marketing people occasionally come up with bizarre ideas like this. Unfortunately, I have a couple of other complaints—admittedly minor ones—that have to fall to the author.
One is the way Walker thinks. I am a man, unlike probably 75 percent or more of the people who will read this book. I know how a man thinks and how a man wants to pretend he thinks. There were several times when Walker’s thoughts were decidedly unmanly. The way those thoughts were expressed would embarrass most men. Most female readers would not know the difference—but those instances brought me up short and took me right out of the story.
Another minor problem was pacing. A half-dozen times, I turned a virtual page and found myself confused. I turned back to the previous page to be sure I hadn’t accidentally skipped a page. Only once was a skipped page the cause of the momentary confusion. As I thought about these matters, I decided that the problem was that the author had to compress things too much to keep the novella short. We know how that turned out. The story was not resolved at all, so it could have stopped at any time.
Now, lest these complaints turn you off completely, I need to come back to reality and give up my idealistic notions of publishing fair play. This e-book is (a portion of) the next story in the Regan Summerside-Walker Boone series of absolutely delightful mysteries. Does it have the undeniable madcap magic of the first three books in the series? Oh, yes, it does. Am I dying to find out what happens when I get the actual book that (hopefully) finishes the story? Yes! Do I hope that Duffy Brown’s legion of adoring fans will control their outrage and fail to mount a crusade to Roy, Utah, to destroy this infidel of a book reviewer? YES! Please be kind.
After all, what’s the point of a book review that doesn’t tell you what the reviewer really thinks? I assure you that when the story is eventually completed in the next book, we will all be deliriously happy and very willing to overlook a few curious problems in the slightly unpolished story fragment we were given a few months before the real book is due to be published. Satisfaction awaits—just not right now.