Sunday, March 3, 2013

Book Review: Diagnosis: Murder - The Dead Letter by Lee Goldberg (Diagnosis Murder #6)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters captured from the TV show, fun story
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
A fan of the show?
You'll love it.  But you don't need
Show to enjoy book

"If You are Reading This, I'm Dead."

The Dead Letter is the sixth in a series of original novels based on the Diagnosis: Murder TV show. The show starred Dick van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan, a doctor at Community General Hospital who is also a police consultant. His son Steve (played by Dick's son Barry van Dyke) is a detective with the LAPD. Other characters included Dr. Jesse Travis, his girlfriend Susan, and pathologist Dr. Amanda Bentley.

It's a Monday when Monette Hobbes runs over her husband. Lowell is rushed to Community General Hospital, where he dies despite the efforts of Mark and Jesse to save him.

Monette had a decent motive for the murder. Lowell had been having an affair with Monette's daughter from a previous marriage. The strange thing is, the affair had been over for a year, about the time Monette hired PI Nick Stryker to follow her husband.

Nick is no stranger to Mark. The two had reluctantly worked together on a case not that long ago. He's a dishonest PI who would rather blackmail people then present his findings to his clients.

The fact that the affair had been over for a year nags at Mark, and he tries to call Nick. His reward is a box delivered in the mail with a letter asking Mark to use the enclosed blackmail material to solve Nick's murder.

Mark immediately turns the box over to his son Steve. While Steve begins the process of putting these criminals behind bars, Mark begins to trace Nick's steps in the last few days of his life. What could Nick have done recently to drive someone to kill?

I am addicted to these books. I picked this book up and couldn't stop reading until I had reached the end. The story is engaging with several twists. While I did expect several of them, the ending was much more complicated then I expected. The plot moves forward at a steady pace with the initial revelations only leading to more questions until everything begins to fall into place.

As always, Lee Goldberg captures the characters well. These aren't just characters named Mark, Jesse, Steve, Amanda, and Susan, but these are the characters as portrayed by Dick van Dyke and the others on the TV show. Their interactions are right off the screen. Unfortunately, Jesse, Amanda, and Susan don't have much page time in this book, and I really do miss them. Their scenes are memorable, however, with the wonderful teasing and joking I loved from the series. The characters work on their own as well. You don't need to have watched the show to understand their relationships.

There are really only a few new characters that have any significant time, and they are well fleshed out. The others are developed enough for their scene or two, and feel like real people.

The books are fast reads. The author has worked mostly in television (including on this show), and it shows with wonderful dialog and good action scenes. Narration and the character's feelings somethings suffer a little, but it's a minor complaint.

These novels are beginning to create their own world apart from the TV show on which they are based. There are several references to events in the previous five books, so it's best to read them in order to avoid being spoiled.

If you haven't yet discovered this fun and inventive series, don't wait another day. Anyone looking for a good read will enjoy The Dead Letter whether they liked the TV show or not.

If you like to read in order, here are the Diagnosis: Murder Mysteries in order.

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