Monday, December 3, 2018

CHOP IT UP: The Plot is Murder by V. M. Burns

"The small town of North Harbor on the shores of Lake Michigan is about to have a new mystery bookstore. But before the first customer can browse its shelves, the store’s owner is suspected of her own murder plot . . .   
Samantha Washington has dreamed of owning her own mystery bookstore for as long as she can remember. And as she prepares for the store’s grand opening, she’s also realizing another dream—penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. While Samantha hires employees and fills the shelves with the latest mysteries, quick-witted Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling's charms. When one of Daphne's suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor.  
But as Samantha indulges her imagination, the unimaginable happens in real life. A shady realtor turns up dead in her backyard, and the police suspect her—after all, the owner of a mystery bookstore might know a thing or two about murder. Aided by her feisty grandmother and an enthusiastic ensemble of colorful retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store. But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind for her?"
I promise I’m not trying to sound like a book snob when I write what I have to write. Hell, I don’t believe I could write a book any better. So I don’t want to sound ostentatious when I say The Plot is Murder was weak. It's one of those books you wished someone had let you at months before the final edit. Still, my resounding observation is this: the book reads like someone attempting to write a contemporary cozy mystery. While attempting to write a 1930's English mystery. Simple as that.

Two Stories in One Struggle
True enough, the author loves both sub-genres of the mystery field. The enthusiasm for both is too strong and too evident. Yet, with two sub-genres vying for space in one book, I felt one probably would have been better if it got all the attention. Then again, that may be speculation because both felt weak inside and out. Both suffered holes, details, and character development as individuals. And worse of all, they both lacked the writing glamour necessary to generate and maintain the "transport and immerse" joyfulness of a reader's reading experience. Yes, not just the 1930s English mystery story shuddering and stalling at pulling me in. The modern story was a hassle as well.

2nd Fiddle Main Protagonist

Nonetheless, the contemporary cozy story featuring Samantha Washington wasn't fresh enough. It read standardized and lacking enough flavor. And by "flavor" I mean personality, star power and gumption in its leading protagonist. Sadly for the her, she played second fiddle to that tedious Stephanie Plum-type sleuthing granny character cliche. You know, the grandmother character who's suppose to be the comedic relief but only upstages the surrounding characters one too many times with her ridiculous antics/behavior.

Convoluted Plotting...

As for the actual plot. It was comprised of a coiled mess at attempting a complex mystery involving brothers, a family business, old money, and war. Unfortunately, there was too much convenience and
expounding toward the resolution–as oppose to investigative action and deductive reasoning.

...With a Weak WHODUNIT Catalyst

And it didn't help that one of my biggest mystery pet peeves took place early on. It's the pet peeve where the reader doesn't get a fair shot at getting to know the victim before he/she is murdered. If you get that right, you add another piece of worth and value to the experience. Because the reader gets to decide beyond the characters if the victim asked for it or was given his or her murder unjustly. Not in this case. The victim had a moment of knocking on the protagonist's shop door before she stuck her tongue out at him (like a child I must say) and lowered the blinds. Had she let him in the shop and ensued an argument, I (as the reader) could gauge his temperament and decide if he's the asshole everyone claims him to be or not.

Regardless, interaction between characters is everything in a mystery. That's why it drives me crazy when the reader is told not to like a victim as oppose to deciding for him or herself upon meeting the victim on stage before his/her murder. It's all about position. The victim has a position. The killer has a position. Let's hear them both out. And while there are exceptions, this book needed not take that exception. The phrase "all hands on deck" suits this need.

Wait.  Wait.  I didn't get to know him yet!
Wispy Settings
As for the settings, the township, and the bookstore itself–it all left a hallow impression. Honestly, the main character/bookshop owner spent more time in the damn casino gambling with a gaggle of eccentric grannies than watching over her shop and getting to know the residents.
The Invasive Side Story
Anyway, let's move on a bit to the English mystery portion of the book. Well, okay. The English mystery was very much the same. Only worst because it generated zero reader investment in the characters. Don't get me wrong. A mystery within a mystery is a cool idea. But, frankly, I will say the English mystery was like a toxic friend dragging the other down. The kind of friend who doesn't want the other to grow up and find success, but instead stay at that elementary level of comfort. Which is why I decided to obsolete the English mystery portion after three of its chapters. The further it went, the stronger my urge to attempt to salvage the experience grew. I couldn’t invest myself in the both parallel stories. The weaker of the two had to go.

Should we try again?
Soooooo. There's a ton more I could say, but that would be exhausting. But one being the "dummy cop looking in the wrong direction" cliche. With all that said, I’m going to give the series another go with the second book. Yes, yes I am. This is a mystery series written by a black female writer. I have to get behind that! Secondly, I want to be there should this series really take off. The fourth book comes out in spring. So there's plenty available to consider.

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