Thursday, August 16, 2018

Book Review: 'Goodnight Irene' by James Scott Byrnside

Chicago author James Scott Byrnside, unwilling to offer his background as he ‘ despises writing blurbs about himself’, makes a sensationally fine debut fiction novel with GOODNIGHT IRENE – the characters so finely drawn that once the reader is over the jolt that this is a ‘first book’ can only hope that this may be book one of a series of murder mysteries with the cast intact!

The well selected cover art – coffins afloat in a ‘red’ river – suggests the mystery to come and James’ skill at scene setting (there is evidence that the author first composed this story as a play) is on target. He offers a strange back story in a Prologue set in 1907 (keep the seeds sown here in mind…) and then jumps into his story in Chicago 1927. ‘“The time is almost upon us.” Rowan Manory put away his pocket watch and rolled a cigarette under an elm tree. The detective was a stocky box of a man with a black suit featuring wide notch lapels that nearly covered his shoulders. He pushed the cigarette into the corner of his mouth. His assistant, Walter Williams, opted to stand under the sun. Walter was a tall, lanky man, with a thin jazz suit, tinged the slightest possible shade of grey. He inhaled the sublime scent of spring as it breezed through Chicago’s affluent South Shore neighborhood. “Isn’t it grand, Manory?” “You are referring to this neighborhood?” Rowan looked over the row of houses. “No, I mean the season. Hope springing eternal, the butterflies, the squirrels, and the rejuvenation of life—that sort of thing.” Rowan struck a match and puffed the cigarette to life. “For every one homicide during the fall and winter, there are three in spring and summer. It is not only the flora and fauna that flourish with the thaw. There is also the rebirth of the sisters, animus and avarice. They seem to be fanatical about warm weather.” Walter nodded. “You must admit the squirrels are adorable. Look at them, chasing each other up the tree.” Rowan could not suppress his smile. “Are you mocking me, Williams?” Walter held out his thumb and index finger a few inches apart. “Just a little bit. I think one can enjoy a picturesque day without dwelling on humanity’s moral turpitude.” “That is completely dependent on one’s point of view. Now, Williams, before we enter the house, let us go over everything we know thus far.” “We haven’t even talked to the client yet.” “Yes, but the story has dominated the newspapers for the last three weeks. We know some
basic facts. Tell them to me.” Walter joined Rowan in the shade and pulled out his notepad. “The victim was Martin Brent, proprietor of Brent Real Estate and Loan. He was murdered on the second of March.” “Who were the last people to see Mr. Brent alive?” “His seven employees. According to their statements, Brent entered his office just before four o’clock p.m. and locked the door. At that point, they went home for the evening, leaving him alone in the building.” Flavor set – so the locked room mystery begins. But keep the title of the book in mind….

James offers a fine synopsis – enough plot to stimulate without including spoilers – ‘ A brilliant detective...A baffling murder...An isolated manor...A list of less than perfect suspects with perfect alibis...No way out...It's going to be a long and gruesome night. Hired to stop a murder at a birthday party of invited suspects at a Mississippi Manor cut off from the world by The Great Flood of 1927, Detective Rowan Manory needs to solve a 20-year-old case to save his client from unwrapping a deadly and perhaps deserved gift of revenge. Can Manory figure out the identity of the murderer before the bodies start dropping?’

Read on – a very fine murder mystery that seems a fine chock block for launching an ongoing series with Manory and Williams. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, August 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. 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.

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