Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: The Last Dinosaur by Sandy Dengler (Valley of the Sun Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a fast moving, twisty mystery
Cons: A couple of things don’t quite get explained
The Bottom Line:
Deadly movie prop
Opens Joe’s next twisty case
Fun if slightly flawed

That’s One Old Murder Weapon

It seems to be a plot used in many murder mystery series – a Hollywood movie comes to the area and someone associated with it is murdered.  It works for two reasons – we are fascinated by Hollywood, and, more practically, it brings a bunch of new people to town to either die or be suspects.  Sandy Dengler used this device in The Last Dinosaur.  The result doesn’t quite work as well as her books usually do, however.

The Last Dinosaur also happens to be the name of the movie being filmed a couple hours outside of Phoenix.  And the murder victim is the assistant direct.  Melissa Baugh was killed while the rest of the crew was in a meeting.  She was trampled to death by the animatronic star of the film.  But this dinosaur doesn’t run wild.  In fact, it only works when someone is running the controls.  So who had it in for Melissa and why?  That’s what Phoenix homicide detective Joe Rodriguez and his partner Tommy Flaherty have to find out.

Obviously, this murder is a bit on the grisly end, although the violence is discussed in vague terms in passing.  The focus really is on how and why Melissa was killed.  The trail Joe follows leads in some surprising directions, too.  A sub-plot involving a visiting preacher who may or may not be involved in a burglary scheme helps keep things interesting, too.

Which is why I’m sorry that a couple details of the mystery don’t quite come together.  Oh, the big picture works well.  We know who the killer is and why, and that makes sense.  There are a couple of niggles over the how Melissa died that don’t get answered.  I first read this book over 20 years ago, and I didn’t remember many of the details of the plot, but as I reread the book, I remembered a few things that didn’t quite get explained.  I felt the same way this time.  Trust me, they are minor overall, and you can piece together what must have happened.

Which is a shame because I love the characters in this series.  Joe and Tommy make a fine investigative pair, and the rest of the supporting players are wonderful.  The suspects are strong and keep you guessing until Joe puts things together at the end.  Joe’s ten-year-old son Rico really gets a chance to shine here, which I enjoyed.

This book was originally published for the Christian market.  Now don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’ll get any lectures.  Instead, it influences how Joe looks at life and the case.  As a Christian myself, I enjoy this aspect of the book, but it is easy enough to ignore if you aren’t a Christian yourself.

Even with the flaws in the mystery, I still recommend The Last Dinosaur.  The story is still strong enough and the characters are wonderful to spend time with.  The couple of small things left unanswered won’t bother you too much.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Valley of the Sun Mysteries.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

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