Thursday, July 23, 2020

Book Review: Dead Body Language by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal #1)


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong, unique character, good plot
Cons: Foul language, a niggle with the ending
The Bottom Line:
Connor faces crime
A unique main character
In still strong debut




Unexpected Body in the Cemetery

Dead Body Language was my introduction to Penny Warner’s books.  I read it years ago – so long ago I don’t have a review of it anywhere, and I started reviewing every book I read in 2001.  Since I never moved on to the rest of the series (although I did enjoy the other series she wrote over the years), I decided it was time to go back and revisit Connor.

Connor Westphal has taken her journalism degree and moved from San Francisco to the town of Flat Skunk, a mostly tourist town in California’s Gold Country.  She’s running the Eureka!, a weekend paper she inherited from her grandparents.  Mostly, it is filled with articles about the various events planned for tourist and ads for sales the stores are holding.

A huge part of her business is want ads, so when Lacy Penzance comes in wanting to place an ad looking for her long lost sister, Connor thinks little of it.  Later that same day, Lacy decides to cancel her ad.  The next morning, Lacy’s body is found on her recently departed husband’s gravestone.  It looks like suicide at first, but the sheriff isn’t so sure.  In the guise of writing a tribute to Lacy, Connor begins digging into the case herself.  Will she find the killer?

As I already said, I read this book years ago.  The paperback version I read came out in 1997 and is long out print, but it has been rereleased as an ebook.  I don’t know if any changes were done to update the book in the new version, but I will be commenting on the original 1997 copy.

So far, one thing I haven’t mentioned about Connor is that she is deaf.  That was a twist that originally intrigued me when I picked up the book, and it is handled expertly.  Obviously, I don’t know what being deaf is like, but this felt real to me, and as I was reading, I felt like I couldn’t hear right along with Connor.  We get some discussion about what lip reading is really like early on and how Connor has to fill in the blanks on what most people say, but we slowly get to the point that this is dropped in favor of advancing the story.  Still, I was thinking about that element as I read.  We learn a bit about TTY phones (this is the days before everyone had a cell phone that could text), and the climax is much more suspenseful because Connor can’t hear.

The mystery itself is very good.  When I reached the climax, I was impressed with the clues that Connor picked up on that I completely missed.  There were enough twists to keep me engaged.  I’m a bit on the fence about the killer’s identity.  I’m not completely sure it works, but maybe that’s just me.

I really do like Connor as a main character.  She is strong and resourceful.  Yes, she has made friends who help her out as needed, but she is pretty self-sufficient.  These friends are also real, and I look forward to getting to know them better as the series progresses.

Going back to this book now, I was surprised at the foul language in the book.  There are some four-letter words scattered throughout the book, more so at the beginning and end than the middle.  Also, I felt like Connor’s week stretched longer than five days, but it is possible I lost track of the days as I was reading.  The timelines issues also play into some of my quibbles about the ending – I’m not sure when the villain had time to do part of the plot.

I really did enjoy meeting Connor again after all these years.  I already have the rest of the series, and I plan to move on from Dead Body Language soon.

Check out the rest of the Connor Westphal Mysteries.

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