Friday, March 25, 2011

Murder Past Due by Miranda James

Widower Charlie Harris is a part-time archivist at his local college. He's got a Maine Coone cat named Diesel and a college student boarder named Justin, the son of a high school friend. But Justin's life is in turmoil, and Charlie soon discovers why: it turns out that Justin's father is actually the famous author Godfrey Priest, a local who has made plenty of enemies over the decades. And Godfrey is on his way to visit his hometown. But within a day of Godfrey's arrival, someone kills him--and Justin's cell phone is found by the body.

Murder Past Due has a lot of good things going for it, particularly Diesel, who's adorable. It also has some great plot twists, and while I strongly suspected I'd guessed the murderer ahead of time and turned out to be right, I was still surprised because I was never sure. The plot is good.

But the book also has a lot of negatives. It's very slow-moving, for one thing, without a lot of action and with almost no tension. For another, Charlie himself is rather bland. But it's the relationship between Charlie and the deputy assigned to investigate the murder that I had so much trouble with and did so much to sour me on the book.

Charlie is a middle-aged white man. The deputy, Kanesha, is a young black woman. In addition, Kanesha's mother works for Charlie as his housekeeper, and in fact asks Charlie to quietly help her daughter with the investigation so everything will go well. While Kanesha calls Charlie on his meddling, she's portrayed throughout most of the book as unreasonable and snappish. While I certainly don't think the author intended to come across as racist by any means, I'm uncomfortable at the way Charlie so often steps in and takes charge when Kanesha is trying to do her job. Personally, if I were Kanesha, I'd have thrown his ass in jail. She's the one who solves the murder anyway; Charlie doesn't.

While the plot is good, I didn't have a lot of fun reading the book. Aside from my dislike of the way Charlie butts into the investigation as though he should be allowed to help, the story just crept along so slowly, with so little at stake and with so many unlikable characters, that I stayed bored for long stretches.

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