AUTHOR: Becky Clark

PUBLISHER: Midnight Ink

ISBN: 978- 0-7387-5332-4

There is a lot to like in Becky Clark’s new book, Fiction Can Be Murder, the first in a new series called “A Mystery Writer’s Mystery.” Foremost in my mind is that it is funny. I adore funny mysteries. This book’s humor lies in the author’s voice as it comes through the main character’s narration. I love the brief throw-away lines that come out of the blue with wry wit enough to make me sputter with delight. We know we’re in for a treat from the first line, which compares the literary agent’s annual beauty budget to that of the North Korean military. (Her words are funnier than that, be we aren’t allowed to actually quote from pre-publication review copies.)

Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo is a mildly successful mid-list author of cozy mysteries (like the one we’re reading). She has a highly effective literary agent with a difficult, demanding personality and a group of friends who meet regularly to critique each other’s writing. Charlee is the most successful writer of the group.

The trouble begins when her much-feared agent is found murdered. The murder has been committed using the highly imaginative detailed blueprint of the murder in Charlee’s latest mystery’s manuscript, down to every tiny, painstaking detail. Only her writing group, a handful of other friends, and the agent’s assistant have seen the manuscript. One of them must be the murderer. Of course, the police think it’s Charlee.

From there, Charlee believes she has to solve the crime, because the police won’t do it—they already think she’s guilty. Charlee blunders around in the Denver winter checking alibis and backgrounds of her friends to clear them one by one until only the murderer remains. Of course, that’s not easy. Her series of adventures range from slapstick funny to mortally perilous.

After reading hundreds of cozy mysteries over the last few decades, I have become overly sensitive to the formula insisted upon by the publishers, which shows itself most obviously in the cast of characters. Ms. Clark has done a remarkable job of keeping the publishers happy without making us feel that each new friend exists to earn another checkmark on the list of required characters. This book did not feel formulaic, which is so refreshing.

With that problem handled, we are free to enjoy the amusing, off-beat methods of investigating her friends without alienating them to narrow the field of suspects to the right one. The solution is surprising and satisfying.

The book is fresh, funny, satisfying, and an altogether pleasant reading experience.