Friday, November 13, 2020

Book Review: Design for Murder by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, good mystery
Cons: Mystery takes a took long to get going
The Bottom Line:
Planning a murder
Puts Annie in middle of
A real life murder

Needed a Better Design

While I am new to the Death on Demand series, I have read other books from Carolyn Hart over the years, so I know that, like all authors, she occasionally turns out a book that isn’t up to her usual standards.  That’s what happened with Design for Murder, the second in the series.

Annie Lawrence is thrilled when she is asked to create a murder mystery for the nearby town of Chastain, South Carolina.  In fact, her head is brimming with all kinds of plots and characters and can’t wait to put it all together.  The event will run over several nights with teams each night reviewing the evidence and interviewing the locals playing the suspects.

What Annie doesn’t realize is that she has stumbled into a town already boiling with anger at one of their prominent citizens.  When that citizen is found murdered just before the first mystery night begins, Annie once again finds herself cast as a suspect since she’s an outsider.  Can she clear her name while keeping the evening events running smoothly?

The problem with the book actually happened early.  Annie is super excited about planning the mystery, and she throws out lots of ideas before settling on one.  Or two or three.  This series is famous for its references to other mystery series (Annie owns a mystery themed bookstore, after all), and this entry gets most of those out of the way early on as Annie lists all the books she could get inspiration from.  A little of this is fine, but it goes on a bit too long.

That isn’t to say that we aren’t meeting the victim and the suspects during this time.  In fact, it is very obvious early on who the victim will be, and getting to know the motives means we can jump into the detecting when the murder finally happens.  Notice I said finally.  So much time is spent to creating the events early on.  The plot doesn’t truly get going until the murder happens, and that needed to happen sooner.

Another issue I had was the dual mystery.  Because the suspects in the real murder were also (mostly) playing the suspects in the fictional mystery, I found it hard to keep track of who was who in which mystery.  Since I listened to the audio, that may have been part of my problem.  If I could have more easily gone back and referenced characters, it would have helped.

Now, this isn’t to say that the book is all bad.  Both the mystery that Annie has created and the mystery that happens that Annie must solve are well plotted.  The characters are all strong and have unique motives.  The solutions to both are brilliant, with well planted clues that make sense once Annie reveals the what happened.  And Annie and her fiancĂ©, Max, are an enchanting pair of sleuths.  I love spending time with them.

And I’m certainly not going to blame the audio version.  Kate Reading is a fantastic narrator.  She brings the characters and story to life brilliantly.

Even though Design for Murder wasn’t as strong as the first in the series, I’m looking forward to visiting Annie and Max again soon.

Read the rest of the Death on Demand Mysteries.

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

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