I’ve been thinking for a while, that in between articles, I’d like to try reviews. Old books I love, new books I want t share with others, and theatre. I go to the theatre a handful of times a year. I prefer the immediacy of the stage to celluloid. I recently saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by North West on stage. There’s a long tradition of plays translated into film, but I’ve had no experience till now of it being the other way around. I really enjoyed watching what was done in North by North West and making comparisons.
I thought though that I would cut my review teeth with Maddie Cochere’s book, called Murder Under Construction. I met Maddie online three years ago when she had a blog called Breezy Books. The site is still there, now it’s advertising her Susan Hunter series. Maddie knows she’s my first, so if I get it wrong, she’ll give me a break, I’m sure.
Maddie Cochere has produced 10 novels in record time. Three years ago she wrote her first book beginning with Susan Hunter. There are seven in the Susan Hunter series. Susan works in a weight loss centre and is, as her creator says ‘simply at the wrong place at the wrong time’.
It seems that Jo Ravens has had a similar experience. She fell on top of a body dumped at a construction site., hence the title. Jo’s life is in a rut. She has a job she doesn’t like and she is overweight.
Murder Under Construction (MUC) is Cochere’s first novel in a (second) series of three books so far and one on the way. Sounds like giving birth, doesn’t it? But most writers actually do think of their novels as children. I found MUC easy to read and got through it rather quickly. I like cosies. They lack the violence and the gruesome post-mortems of police procedurals, The gory details are tucked nicely out of sight leaving me free to concentrate on where the story is heading and who the characters are.
MUC is about two sisters: Jo and Pepper and their journalist friend Jackie. It’s told in first person by Jo. The friends form an amateur sleuthing combo and call themselves two sisters and a journalist. Amateur sleuths aren’t my only read, but now and again it’s nice to take a break from grim reality..
Narrator and central character, Jo Ravens, falls off her bike and drops on top of the victim disarranging the knife in the the dead woman’s chest, which gets Jo into trouble with the local Plod. He assumes that the victim is a prostitute and not worth more than the minimal effort. Jo feels she has a personal stake in this and takes up the challenge.
I imagine that it would be handy in the sleuthing business to have a journalist along for the ride but it’s Jo who makes most of the running in this story. However, (and without giving anything away) a friendly policeman is added to the support group in the end and a retired PI who will mentor Jo so she can earn her sleuthing license. I haven’t read book two or three, but I would be surprised if things haven’t been set up to develop in the next novel and the one after.
Poirot has his little grey cells. Corinna Chapman has a fabulous boutique bakery, a devoted boyfriend and a good mind. Jo Ravens has cryptic dreams. I don’t put Jo Ravens in their league, but they and their creators have been at it much longer. And as is the way of mystery writing and their sub-genres: different strokes for different folks.
Jo’s dreams had me hooked. I’m not sure if Cochere got her inspiration from the show, Medium, or thought of it independently. I don’t think it matters. Ideas aren’t created in a vacuum. Whether they admit it or not or are even conscious of it, writers channel their inspiration from life experience, from reading newspaper stories or novels of writers they admire; writers get their inspiration wherever they stumble on them.
I enjoyed watching Jo interpreting the dreams sent to her by the victim. These scenes kept me reading. But I hope Cochere has developed that part of it in her later novels. And I hope she gives the others a chance to shine. Everyone is too matter of fact about those dreams. No one questions them, not even Jo. She just keeps adding the dream information to the evidence board.
Jo Ravens is sixty pounds overweight. Her husband left her for someone younger and they are doing well, she’s stuck in a dead end job. Jo fell in a funk and turned to comfort food. Don’t we all relate to that? She see saws between exercise and heart stopping meals that would choke a horse. I hope the next two novels, when I get to them see her pull out of that funk and develop some self confidence as she dreams up some more clues and she and her merry band of friends solve some more mysteries.