Monday 20 December 2010

Rooting for the Killer: A Book Review of Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island

My Review of Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island:

Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island by John Howard Reid is an eccentric, odd mix of a British murder mystery and a screwball comedy, with an offhand, often irreverent manner. It has worthy qualities, but I found it disjointed and lacking somewhat in focus.

The book revolves around an island murder mystery getaway, a police detective, his girlfriend and an assorted bunch of peculiar individuals. These characters are prepared for a weekend of mystery and murder games. Instead a real life killer pops up and claims an actual victim.

This book has problems, the main one being setting. It is supposed to be set in Florida and there are one or two American references, but the tone, dialogue and descriptive passages are peppered with Australian (the author’s nationality) allusions. This is prevalent enough in the novel that it made it impossible for me to believe the Florida location, unless the book takes place in an alternate universe. These anomalies kept pulling me out of the narrative and interrupting the stream of the book.

I sometimes found the pace and dialogue a bit off-kilter, and the characters pushed to the edge of comedic parody. Much of the character interaction comes off a bit forced, like a series of staged, interconnected monologues. The individual viewpoints are lively and interesting, but they often veer into theorizing, philosophical or moralizing debates that do not flow naturally, but are randomly thrown at the reader.

Also, the lead detective character seemed, well, a tad incompetent. Subsequent to the real murder he doesn’t hunt for clues or try and keep to any sort of police procedure. Our detective barely interviews the suspects or examines for possible motives and appears to be far more comfortable in haphazardly choosing probable killers based on his “experience” and bad clichés. He does somehow manage though, to stumble on the killer and figure the rather apparent solution to the mystery.

I wanted to like this book for its quaint unconventional charm and the author’s excellent turn of a phrase, but I could not overcome the distracting aspects of the plot. For me, Merryll Manning: Trapped On Mystery Island unfortunately does not rise above the level of mediocre.


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I really appreciate your honest review of Merryll's book. It's hard to take if you're the author, but at the same time, if one listens closely to what you have to say, there's something to be learned. Thank you, Anita.

A. F. Stewart said...

I don't like posting less than positive reviews, especially when an author requests the review, but the book hit a couple of my pet peeves. At least my opinion does seem to be in the minority.
Since the book is part of a series, I may try reading another Merryll Manning and see if I like it any better.

Toyin O. said...

Great review, thanks for sharing.

Sheila Deeth said...

As a transplanted Brit, I always wonder how well writing stories set in America might work out. I wonder if the transatlantic "voice" gets in the way of the story.

Certainly a good review, and definitely thought-provoking too.

A. F. Stewart said...

Sheila, it wasn't any cultural difference in tone that bothered me, it was the sloppy errors in research. For instance, he had American characters using Australian terms in the dialogue.

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