Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: 'Mountain Murder Mystery' by Benjamin Dahlbeck


Ten people + one huge mansion up in the mountains + one blizzard + an escaped killer on the loose = classic murder mystery with plot twists and red herrings.
I admit, I was both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised by this story. This has an old-fashioned feel to it à la Agatha Christie, and she’s even mentioned once. Basically, we’re not given the POV of any of characters in the story. Everything we learn from them we must deduce from their expressions, speech, and reactions. That seemed like a perfectly valid way of approaching a murder mystery.
The book’s written well. However, for the longest time, judging from the way people talked, I assumed this was an historical tale. Not until we get cell phones and modern day idioms that we realize this is a contemporary story after all. For a classic tale of who-dunit, that was both interesting and confusing. I like traditional murder mysteries, so the antiquated feel worked for me. The modern references worked at times, less in others, clashing with the classic feel. Nonetheless, this book had an appeal that made me read this in one sitting. The humor throughout, for example, seemed to fit with the narrative rather nicely. Except (and this seems to be the norm for this tale) for when it didn’t, such as joking about too much garlic in their food when there are two dead bodies chilling in the wine cellar. Inappropriate!
The cast is composed of family members, servants, and a sheriff. The two people providing the gay romance aspect are Andy Severn, one of said grandchildren, and Roger Dickerson, the sheriff. But, and I can’t emphasize this enough, this is most definitely NOT a romance. The two men aren’t often alone, and when they are, they talk loads and then gloss over every sensual scene. Obviously since no one’s inner thoughts are heard here it probably would have made those sex scenes awkward and impersonal, so I get why they were left out. But those of you who are expecting a classic murder mystery with some male heroes getting hot and heavy, look elsewhere.
As for the other characters, well, there’s the usual: The engaged couple who don’t know each other well yet, the married couple with straying eyes, the single gay guy with his bromance with his cousin and his other could-be romance with the sheriff, the eccentric matriarch of the family, two identical servant sisters, a flirtatious handyman, and so on. Their personalities came through loud and clear even though we don’t hear their innermost thoughts. They seemed such archetypal charaters that I was immediately drawn into the complex tale.
One big negative, however, is the family matriarch, Mary Agnes, with her quirky ways. At first, she was charming in that quaint way of hers, and I liked her. Then she smashed someone’s cell phone to pieces because she doesn’t approve of cell phones. What? Yeah, no. I don’t care who you are or how charmingly eccentric you are, you don’t destroy other people’s property for any reason. There went all my positive associations with her, and I wanted her to be one of the murder victims. Unfortunately, she wasn’t.
The other puzzling thing was Roger, the sheriff. He wasn’t a very good sheriff, considering three people get murdered on his watch, not to mention getting shot at, getting rooms broken into, etc. It might have been better to make him, say, a private investigator. That at least would have taken the pressure off from his sub-par performance as an officer of the law. Still, when he does take charge, he does so with authority. And if the deck wasn’t so stacked against him from the start, his strategies might even have paid off better.
Now, there are maps and floorplans at the back of the book. I strongly suggest you utilize them to figure out who was where when and doing what. Basic who-dunit puzzle solving. I was glad they were there because often I had trouble visualizing just what was happening. That was by no fault of the author and his writing capabilities, as he does a lot of descriptions, but purely my own forgetfulness.
Since there are so many people in the story and since we can’t hear their thoughts, it’s important to follow what people are saying. No, they don’t always tell the truth, but will their expressions betray them? I had fun trying to figure things out. As a classic-style murder mystery, this delivered rather well. I certainly enjoyed reading this.
Not to spoil the ending, I still have to say that I was quite confused with who did what to whom when. There are a lot of revelations toward the end, and I had some trouble following those conclusions to the end. Plus, if you expect the two gay heroes to solve the murders, you’re out of luck. They have virtually no role here other than as a two men who happen to be gay and who might be attracted to each other. I really wanted a gay guy to solve the crime. But… no, unfortunately we don’t get that.
So, overall this was an interesting change from the typical crime stories of today. The classic feel, the two-dimensional characters, the mystery solved solely through hints in words and actions, all that was promising. In some ways this delivered, in others it failed. I suppose the biggest question is, would I read this again? Very possibly, if just to see if I understood what was happening. Would I recommend this to lovers of M/M and murder mysteries? Yes, with the caveat that you should like the latter more because you won’t be getting much romance at all. Since the beginning, when no one’s POVs are given, I knew to expect less romance, so in that respect I got what I expected and wasn’t too disappointed. Would I read this author again? Sure. If writers take their craft seriously, they can only get better.

Editor's note: This article was originally published at Long and Short ReviewsIt has been republished with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.