Friday, October 29, 2010

Dead to Writes (Cathy Wiley)

It's another murder mystery, and once again, my gut feeling gave an erroneous assumption. Thankfully, Cassandra Ellis and Detective James Whittaker were not so easily misled.
  • Overall: 3.4 ҉
  • Plot: 4/5
  • Originality: 4/5
  • Language: 2/5
  • Believability: 3.5/5
The premise of the story is quite simple: an author writes murder mysteries, and people around her end up dead. With that being said, the mystery itself certainly wasn't, as I had my finger pointed at the wrong character down to the last 80% of the story. Wiley does a commendable job at misdirection, opening multiple possibilities and thinning them out only to throw them under suspicion once again. The reader feels like he or she is right there alongside Cassie, trying to figure out who is killing off her friends.

As far as characterization goes, Cassie was very well done. Her personality is consistent throughout the story, and her inquisitiveness and foolish bravery are certainly memorable. The overactive imagination that she displays, along with a tendency to let her characters run away with her storyline, is something that real authors are blessed struggle with, and I can certainly believe that she is one of them.

What I did have difficulty putting my faith into was her relationship with James. Once the two finally got together, it was fine, but the events leading up to that resolution felt a bit forced. The attraction that they each allude to in the other's absence isn't readily evident whenever they meet face-to-face in the first half of the novel, omniscient third party explanations notwithstanding. I suppose that what I was looking for was a keener sense of the underlying sexual tension. Then again, that's not how every relationship operates at its inception, so I might just be missing the connection.

Other than that, the sequence of events made sense. The timings of the murders were well thought out, and the victims themselves were all logical choices. The pacing was quick without feeling rushed, and I was eagerly anticipating each new screen as I wondered what the denouement would  ultimately be. Some key scenes could have been woven in better, and I have the sneaking suspicion that the story might have worked just as well without them. These were brief hiccups in the continuity of the tale, and I soon got over them and moved on. It helped that the action really started to pick up in the latter half of the book.

Unfortunately, the language used wasn't quite as satisfying as the story itself. There was an abundance of sentence fragments scattered throughout its pages; I surmise that these were intended to reflect the flightiness of Cassandra's thoughts and, to some extent, they did.  Still, this might have been accomplished through other literary techniques. Many of the sentences could have stood on their own short legs without beginning with a conjunction; they would still retain the oomph that they were meant to deliver by being so brief. The same goes for sentences that included noticeable repetition of words or the occasional bout of awkward phrasing. This might not bother most, but I found it to be distracting.

Overall, Dead to Writes is an enjoyable read. The heroine is quirky, likable, and easy to identify with, while the mystery itself successfully keeps you guessing. Wiley's characters show a great deal of promise, and it will be interesting to see how they mature in future sleuthing adventures.

(Review copy provided by the author)

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