Mystery author Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo thinks the twisty plots and peculiar murders in her books are only the product of her imagination—until her agent is found dead exactly as described in Charlee’s new, unpublished manuscript. Suspicion now swirls around her and her critique group, making her confidence drop as severely and unexpectedly as her royalty payments.
The police care more about Charlee’s feeble alibi and financial problems than they do her panicky claims of innocence. To clear her name and revive her career, she must figure out which of her friends is a murderer. Easier said than done, even for an author who’s skilled at creating tidy endings for her mysteries. And as her sleuthing grows dangerous, Charlee’s imagination starts working overtime. Is she being targeted, too?
This is a cute first offering in a new mystery series. I got into a chat with Virginia over at Rosepoint Publishing, when she introduced me to Fiction Can Be Murder in her review, about whether or not it is a cozy mystery. I agree with my blog buddy in that it’s not quite a cozy. I’d say it’s not quirky enough. Virginia says, it doesn’t have any recipes! Lol. Either way, it’s still a fairly well-plotted mystery that you can enjoy pretty quickly.
Fiction Can Be Murder introduces us to mystery writer Charlee Russo, who has been accused of murdering her agent, in the same manner as one of the victims in her latest book. That premise allows us to take a close look at the people closest to Charlee, who had access to her manuscript. Through her interactions with these folks here character is revealed. She’s fun, she’s spunky, people’s opinions can get her down but above all, she loves her family and friends. For most of the novel, she moves smart and tries to figure out who is truly responsible for the crime she’s falsely accused of. However, she has her moments of silliness e.g. making up an alibi for a friend and having a completely over the top reaction to a newspaperaccidentally jammed against her back.
The secondary characters need some more fleshing out. We do get to spend some time with her friends Suzanne and AmyJo but they need more development, which may come in future stories.
On pacing: The novel opens with the victim’s last moments and then flows seamlessly to Charlee as she makes her way to her critique group meeting. For the most part the action moves at a good clip but still gives the reader a chance to enjoy and think about the plot twists. There were a couple car scenes that dragged a bit too much for my liking, but other than that, the pace was on point.
The mystery itself is interesting. There are clues laid out. There are red herrings. There is some backstory given that makes you wonder how it plays into the resolution. There are viable suspects and there are those who are easy to dismiss. Ultimately, I felt the final resolution was a bit rushed and that more time should have been spent laying the backdrop for that revelation.
There are some hilarious quotes sprinkled throughout the book, particularly at the beginning:
“The closest I came to having servants was watching Downton Abbey”. I can totally relate!
“And what’s with the mixed metaphor? Is he a soldier or hanging drywall?” The comments, advice and discussions in the critique group are hilarious. And informative too! Makes me want to immediately go find a group to write and chat with.
And then there are the funny relationship ones…
“Any arguments were usually because one or both of us were hangry.” That’s quite relatable!
“You reach a point where even though the romance is gone -have I mentioned the gas?- there’s such a deep tapestry of your life together that the threads simply can’t be pulled apart.” Despite the gas, I find that to be quite a great description of a long term relationship.
Some things I liked:
- The chilly Denver setting is well-described.
- Varied cast of suspects.
- Charlee is already in a relationship.
- The relationship is not a focal point. In fact, she and Ozzie have a major fight at the beginning of the novel and that sets up the distance between them for the duration of the story. I liked that conflict. Ozzie was mean and deserved the cold shoulder.
- The ‘mission’ to spy on Suzanne.
Some things I did not like:
- Charlee is said to have a tremor which causes her to shake and spill/ drop things. Yet no explanation was ever given for the origin of this tremor. That really irked me. It’s a big part of her character yet it’s not explained.
- Charlee’s brother, Lance, is a police officer, yet he’s not shown to be particularly invested or sympathetic. There was a conflict of interest regarding his involvement in her case but still, I would have liked to have been shown their close relationship, rather than just told about it.
Overall, this story starts off strong but does lose some steam towards the ending. Charlee’s actions by the end have me questioning her sanity! Thankfully even she recognises that and admits that she was not completely at peace with her thought process or behaviour. This bodes well for future stories.
I give this story 4 espresso shots.
Disclaimer: Thanks to the folks at NetGalley and Midnight Ink for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.