Author: Benjamin Dahlbeck
Publisher: DSP Publications
Cover Artist: AngstyG
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 01/12/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery
The Severn family—Jeff and his wife Phyllis, Lynette and her new fiancé, and single Andy—has gathered at the mountain home of their grandmother, Mary Agnes Severn, to celebrate Thanksgiving and hear an announcement regarding their late grandfather’s will. With news of an escaped convict in the hills, everyone is barely settled in before a huge snowstorm strands them in the large old house with only gas lamps and lanterns to keep the darkness away.
Local sheriff Roger Dickerson arrives to check on the family and seek shelter from the storm. Sparks fly between him and Andy as long-held passions bubble just under the surface, but before they can address them, Mary Agnes’s three servants are murdered one by one. Who is the murderer? Is it the escaped murderer? Is it someone in the house? Everyone has a motive, and everyone has the means. What’s going on between Andy and Marcus the handyman? What’s going on between Phyllis and Marcus? Is there something going on between Roger and Marcus? It’s (snow)bound to be a wild week of murder, mystery, and mayhem!
Let me start off by saying that I requested this book to read and review. It sounded like it would be a fantastic ride of a read.
This was not the case. :/
Right off the bat, this much was obvious: this author wanted to include every single detail of physical description they could, whether of place character action within it. I made the prose read rather dryly. It felt like technical writing instead of storytelling. It was precise but not expressive.
She hung up the other quilt and the empty hanger, then kneeled down to inspect the bare floor of the closet. When she rose, she turned and draped the thick quilt over the back of the sofa and meticulously smoothed it out.
I think this passage both exemplifies the style of this storytelling, as well as the story itself and how it was presented on nearly every page of this book. Sometimes, it was painful to read. Relatedly, this sounded like it was taking place in the 1950’s based on the dialogue and character reactions, and yet it was definitely a contemporary given many of the cultural references. Some of the phrases the characters used made me feel like I was reading an episode of “Leave it to Beaver”, and yet Mary Agnes, grandma to main character Andy, held very modern views, particularly regarding sexuality. The writing style and characterization did not match the story at all.
Sometimes one character would be doing this or that in one room of the house in which this story takes place, and then the next paragraph would be a different character in a different room, nothing connecting the two. Along the same vein, when an entire paragraph is comprised of a character walking from one location inside a room to another, doing various and sundry things, but with no emotional or plot related impact, then a story isn’t being told. Instead, we’re just reading about someone walking around a room.
Unfortunately, there’s more. There are several pages-long conversations about the most inane subjects that also have nothing to do with what is supposed to be a murder mystery. I sat through discussions about the weather channel, someone taking a job at Dairy Queen, and about the “reseeding schedule” for plants ruined due to a septic tank having to be dug out of the ground. Again, all with no substantive contribution to the story.
Instead, the events that would be major parts of any murder mystery are treated like blips on the screen.
The introduction of Roger, Andy’s possible love interest is handled rather clumsily, adding to the list of examples of the very prim and proper tone to the book, highlighting the mismatch between subjects and storytelling style.
There are a handful of humorous moments, stuff I would almost categorize as snarky. Most of them came from the mouth of Andy, and they did provide a small glimpse into the potential of this story and these characters. On paper, this should have been fantastic: a murder mystery involving a dozen characters snowed in thanks to a huge storm (even that element is undermined by one character’s admitted actions towards the end of the book), with family secrets galore, a murderer sneaking into the house to perform said murders, and bits of the aforementioned humor. Instead, it mostly felt farcical and two-dimensional. This last point is especially true when it comes to the “emotional” reactions of some of these characters to what should be the darkest and most difficult events of the book for them. The most glaring example of this is a scene with several characters arguing, and referencing a separate argument, about too much garlic in some cream one of them was making for Thanksgiving dinner. Picture it: there are dead bodies chilling in the wine cellar (to which one of the characters descends to choose the appropriate wine to go with the meal), bodies of loved ones, and these characters are discussing an argument about too much garlic.
The most unfortunate victims of this book are the characters. They are, again on paper, a very interesting mix, all with pasts and secrets and challenges and personality quirks that could have been wonderfully utilized for a thrilling story. They were not treated as such.
I had originally planned to provide one more example of the writing, an entire passage about a discussion regarding whether to leave the curtains open or closed in order to keep as much warmth in the house as possible after the electricity fails during the storm. But I just can’t do it. It’s extremely rare for me to actually become upset, angry, at having spent my time experiencing such an underwhelming book. It happened with this one.
I don’t enjoy sharing a review such as this. It’s not fun. But these are my reactions and my attempt to explain them. This is not a successfully told story. No tension, no direction, no mystery, and not much attention paid to the murders.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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