Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Book Review: Sunny Side Up by Daniel Stallings (Li Johnson Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Complex mystery
Cons: Liam faces too much to be enjoyable
The Bottom Line:
A cruise ship murder
Just one thing Liam must face
Becomes way too much

Cruise of Murder and Bullies

This past spring, Sunny Side Up crossed my path.  Since I'm always on the lookout for a cozy or traditional mystery written by or starring a man, I snapped it up.  Besides, a mystery set on a cruise ship sounded like fun.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as much fun as I hoped it would be.

Liam Johnson has landed a job as a waiter on a ship on the prestigious Howard Line.  He needs this job to support himself after his family has gone through multiple hardships over the last few years, so he is trying to deal with a boss who hates him and passengers who seem to delight in tormenting him.  Anything for the paycheck, right?

What Liam wasn't expecting is to find one of the passengers dead on the Sunbathing Deck, but that's exactly what happens at the end of the first day.  The ship's doctor is quick to rule it an accidental case of sunstroke turning fatal, but too many things about the scene don't sit right with Liam.  Can he prove it before the cruise is over?

I have to give the writer credit for creating a complex mystery.  He is a self-proclaimed fan of the Golden Age mysteries, and this falls firmly into that camp.  There are connections and motives we know nothing about until late in the book, which further complicate things.  I do think that the plot was a little more complex than it needed to be, but the clues and signs are all there, so I didn't feel cheated when Liam put it together.  And I have to say I loved seeing such a unique murder method in this book.

My real issue with the book came from the characters.  They are great suspects, but they aren't great people.  Liam is bullied by several of the people he encounters over the course of the book, repeatedly.  Even hoping for the bully to get his comeuppance wasn't enough to redeem some of those scenes.  Liam does have a friend on the ship, but that relationship is strained, and the two men fight as often as Liam has other unpleasant encounters.  It was just rough to read.

This book definitely falls into the traditional side of the spectrum.  There is a smattering of foul language (that lessens as the book progresses) and talk about sex (although it is just that, talk).

While most of the book is narrated from Liam's third person point of view, we do get scenes from various other characters as well.  I enjoy a book told from multiple viewpoints when it is done well, and it certainly was done well here.

Ultimately, I found Sunny Side Up to be anything but sunny.  The problems heaped on Liam kept me from enjoying the book as much as I had hoped.

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