Source: Review Copy (Coachwhip Publications)
This story certainly starts with a bang, metaphorically speaking, as Mrs Sylvia Jensen abruptly tells Judge James Massie that she has shot her husband, due to the psychological torment he is inflicting on her, attempting to make her think she is insane. She also fears what he will do to her younger 18 year old sister. Massie of course pretends to not be interested, when he really is and soon they all return to her house to view the body, which not only isn’t there, is very much alive and well… The police who have also been called out are not impressed. The only thing dead at the property is the family dog, but even that disappears. At this point in time the reader is left wondering in what direction the novel will go next. Did Sylvia hallucinate the killing she thought she had committed? What are her husband’s full intentions towards her, and what does he plan to do to her next? And to be honest this is such a wonderful plot that I don’t want to say too much more about it, but suffice to say there are further corpses to follow: ones that disappear, ones that aren’t corpses after all and ones you really don’t expect.
I’ve tried to be very circumspect in my synopsis; I’ve haven’t given much beyond the first few chapters, as this is very much a plot to relish, with its very intricate, well clued, unusual and un-run of the mill puzzle. If I was in such a novel I would say that events take a very screwy turn, yet not in an Alice Tilton or Craig Rice way. No hard drinking ensues and equally it is not a comic mystery. Dealing with domestic abuse this story is not light and breezy, though it is also not overbearingly depressing or grim. It’s a kind of a mixture of dark and light, with a young couple in the story providing light relief with their developing romance. I think the abuse side of things is dealt with naturally, with it not being swept under the carpet, but not morbidly focused on either. Screwy sometimes makes readers worry that the puzzle aspect of the story will be less than satisfying, but this is certainly not the case here. This is a puzzle you can get your teeth into, from a character psychology, as well as an alibi and timings point of view. Based on my own experience I think this is a solution you will get some aspects of quite easily, though not immediately be able to place certain pieces in quite the right place. The who of the solution is well hidden from the reader, yet the authors are both very generous and fair in their cluing and in the summing up you could be endanger of getting a sore face from all the face palming you’ll be doing when you realise all you’ve missed in plain sight. For a first novel this is an incredible debut for this married writing team as normally the puzzle aspect of first novels can be a bit weak. Pacing is also excellent with these two authors being good at writing cliff hanger chapter endings. I think their background in radio may have helped them in this.
So when only 4.5 and not 5/5. Well that is principally because of Massie’s rustic dialect which is infused throughout all of his dialogue. You can still understand him but it is still a bit irksome from time to time. But if you can put that to one side then you are in for a seriously good mystery!