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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Breezy in the Big Easy

(image from Barnes & Noble)

I wanted something light and breezy to read while at the hair salon today, and Motif for Murder by Laura Childs seemed like just the thing. It was definitely breezy - so breezy, in fact, that it had very little substance at all. Considering its fumbling plot, depthless characters and clumsy writing, the best thing about this book may be that it's short.

The novel is the third in a series of mysteries featuring Carmela Bertrand, a scrapbook store owner in New Orleans. As the book opens, Carmela is just patching up her marriage with Shamus, the son of a wealthy banking family. Waking up in her 26-room home with her husband by her side, everything feels right - until he pads downstairs to make breakfast and disappears. Carmela arrives on the scene just in time to see a black Cadillac racing away from her home, Shamus presumably inside. Frantic, she sprints down the street to her husband's uncle's house only to find out that Uncle Henry has been murdered in his extensive library. She knows the two events are related, even if the police are slow to make the connections. Frustrated, Carmela determines to find her husband and Henry's killer on her own. Along with her voodoo-loving best friend Ava, Carmela combs the city for clues to the crimes, only to find that the answers are right under her nose. Of course, her meddling quickly comes to the attention of the fiends, and soon she is running for her own life. Can she stop the killers in time? Or will more graves be dug in her family's corner of the cemetery?

The plot actually doesn't sound that bad, but it is so poorly presented that it comes off as completely unrealistic. Probably the most absurd situation was Carmela running off to the bayous, magically locating kidnappers police couldn't find, and rescuing her husband with nary a hitch. Ridiculous. It would never happen. After that whole melodramatic event, the characters go back to their lives, almost forgetting about poor, dead Henry. The police bumble along in the investigation, while Carmela continues to pry, stumbling on the only clue in the book that points to the true murderer. Of course, she meets the murderer, the identity of whom comes out of the blue. The killer has to explain his/her whole motive because, like I said, there are few other clues in the book. I just found the whole plot ridiculous.

I also thought the characters were poorly drawn. After I finished the book, I realized one reason for this - I believed I was reading the first book in the series, when it was actually the third, so perhaps the characters' histories have been revealed in the first two books. Still, I didn't feel a bond with any of them, didn't feel like I knew them or really cared all that much about what happened to them.

Now, I could stand a far-fetched plot and cardboard characters if the book had some other redeeming qualities, but it really doesn't have many. I do think the scrapbooking element is interesting, even though I'm personally not much of a scrapper. Still, I thought some of Childs' tips - offered in the story and in a section at the end of the book - were innovative. Besides these tips, the book also included recipes, several of which sound really good. So, I appreciated those things, but overall, the book is an insipid piece of fluff.

Speaking of fluff - I continue to grade these kinds of breezy mysteries poorly, and I'm wondering if I'm being too critical of the genre. After all, a "light" mystery is just that - a quick story without a lot of complicated twists and turns. It's supposed to be fast and entertaining. So, am I just too harsh? Is it too much to ask for a light mystery with some interesting characters and a plot I can sink my teeth into? Do I need to shun this genre forever? What do you think?

Grade: C-


  1. The issue you raised at the end of the post is exactly why I don't even try to read thrillers any more! They were just too fluffy. :)

    I don't read light mysteries, so I can't recommend any to you. I do really enjoy other mystery series, though, so you might want to check out Laurie King (Mary Russell), Ellis Peters (Brother Caedfel), Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane), or Donna Leon (just finished the first of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series) if you're looking for other series.

  2. You know this "themed" mystery has become very popular in the last few years. I have enjoyed some of them, but not too many in a row. They end up seeming too similar and then I'm grumpy with them. Definitely candy for the mind. I do find, for me, I enjoy them in small doses.

    I read some by India Ink (how's that for a made-up name, surely?) about a spa that I liked. Also, have read Cleo Coyle's coffeehouse mysteries. Those are fun and make you want to drink coffee (even if you don't usually drink it).

    You may just find that this is not the sub-genre of mysteries for you and that is OK. There are plenty of other ones out there. Good luck with your search!

  3. Hi! I agree with Kay that they may just not be for you and that's OKAY; however, I wouldn't give up on them totally.

    I'm not a classic or chick-lit reader (or cozy mysteries either for that matter), although I have found some in all of those genres that I have enjoyed. They just wouldn't be my first pick. :)

    Also, I've experienced reading a heavy read, then a cozy and the chasm created is too vast for my enjoyment. It really causes the cozy to appear ridiculous. I try to avoid that now.

    As for rating harshly...nah, you're fine. It's YOUR experience and you can share it. It's actually nice for me to see somebody else rating things lower than a "4"! Or I guess in your case a "B". :)

  4. I guess you all are right - maybe this just isn't my genre, but I really WANT to like these books! I agree with Joy that maybe this particular book seemed worse than it was because I had just finished a heavier, more scholarly read.

    I'll keep looking around for authors I enjoy. Thanks for the recommendations everybody. I am going to be reading books in this genre for the Triple 8 Challenge (Cleo Coyle is one of the authors I chose), so I'll let you know if I stumble across any good light mysteries.

  5. I read one of her "Tea Shop" mysteries. As a tea lover, I wanted very much to love the book, but. . . I don't think you're too harsh. I find if I'm looking for a quick mystery fix, Agatha Christie is my first choice. Eva recommended the Brother Caedfel, and I'm going to second her. Those were wonderful!


  6. Forgot to add, you (and your hair) looks gorgeous in that new pic! :)

  7. Aww, Eva, thanks so much! It's very sweet of you to say so. I got it cut on Saturday, and figured it was a good time to take an updated pic for the blog.

  8. I didn't get my driver's liscense until I was 18, and I purposely scheduled a hair cut right before I went to get it. I think it's a very good picture taking strategy!

  9. It's not just you. A friend of mine who reads quite a lot of cosy type mysteries really doesn't like Laura Childs' books for all the reasons you stated. I don't read very many from that genre but I did enjoy Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton. I haven't read the rest but that same friend has and liked them a lot.


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