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on January 27, 2002
After having read -- and been annoyed by -- three previous entries in this series, I had sworn I'd never read another Death On Demand mystery. But I was intrigued enough by some of the reviews of this book to give it a whirl. And it is in many ways much, much better than some of the other Carolyn Hart books I've tried.
I have never felt like I was being given a chance to really KNOW the sleuths, Annie and Max. In previous books, the author kept stepping between me and them and insisting on how I should think -- "Annie is like THIS. Max is like THAT." In the end, I was told so much that I should have been shown, that I felt nothing for the sleuths at all. Hart still interferes, insisting on character traits she should be demonstrating, and there is far too much about what Max and Annie look like, as opposed to what they are like. But Annie's concern for a teenage girl comes through pretty well, and I found myself believing it. Likewise, her reluctant feelings for her estranged father eventually became believable when Hart stopped insisting.
I didn't buy the estranged father's excuses for why he'd been gone so long any more than some other reviewers have. If you really, really want to know where your child is, and only one person on earth can help you, you go to that person and make a nuisance of yourself. You don't phone and write a few times and then give up. This element of the plot was thin. Max's behaviour ("You think YOUR dad was bad? Let me tell you about MINE!") is insensitive, and I would have been more convinced if the lovebirds had had a knock-down fight over it, with a suitable reconciliation later. Hart, however, does not seem interested in delving very deeply into this relationship, and to that extent she leaves her sleuths as two pretty, but rather empty, shells.
Max's mother, on the other hand, is a hoot in this novel. And I usually agree with readers who find her irritating and unbelievable beyond words. I don't quite see why Annie, who knows Laurel is nuts, is suddenly so worried about her. And when a minor character frets that seances and such "aren't God's will," I wasn't convinced by Hart's pious disclaimer that this minor character represented "true goodness," and would be ignored at peril. I don't like people telling me what is and isn't "God's will." It too often leads to boycotts of libraries that carry books about little English wizards, and protesters explaining why God hates various sexual orientations. Hart's tendency to sermonize isn't pronounced in this novel, but that one jarred.
There are fewer extraneous references to every mystery ever written in this than in most of the "Death On Demand" novels, which is a relief. Annie's first scene features lists of other books and authors, but then Hart gets this urge under control for most of the story and mainly sticks to the point.
The real problem with this mystery is, unfortunately, the mystery itself. Hart introduces the potential victims and suspects in the first chapter, then ignores most of them in favour of Annie and her personal life for the next hundred or so pages. Which means that by the time someone is finally offed (about halfway through the book) I had forgotten who these people were -- and the explanation of their relationships was confusing. At one point, it sounds as if everyone is siblings. Then we see that some are one character's stepchildren. Then the stepmother's sister sounds as if she's actually a sibling of the stepchildren... It was confusing. And since she doesn't spend any time developing these characters, it was hard to care who did it or why. There is an obvious, overly-clever solution to the mystery, and that turns out to be it.
Hart also needs to learn a little more about what personal information is and isn't freely available on the Internet, because she has a public librarian performing feats of spying the CIA might envy. As a librarian, I am dubious. And doing things the easy way like this doesn't help the book -- the sleuths don't need to be clever or to interview the suspects, they only need a magical computer. At one point, Annie muses that conversation is a better way of gatherin information than clicking a mouse. If only Hart really believed that, it would have improved her subplot. (Hart has a habit in this book of writing in unexplained technical miracles -- at one point, someone "rigged the lights' so they'd go out at a crucial juncture. As far as I can find, we are never told HOW.)
Overall, better-written than most of this series, and with more humanity. A middling, but reasonably enjoyable, read.
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on December 14, 2001
First off, this book was definitely interesting, and could hold my attention, but it wasn't great.
It took over 160 pages for anyone to get murdered, so you had to read about relationships and romance. Relationships between the main-character (Annie Darling) and her estranged father, Annie and her estranged step-sister, etc. Once someone does get killed it becomes somewhat boring. I knew who the killer was from the beginning. Also, the whole mystery is somewhat cliched. I do think the author is a good writer, and has potential to succeed, just not with this book.
As for the plot, Annie Darling runs Death On Demand, a mystery bookstore. Annie's father (Pudge) and step-sister (Rachel) find her and soon Annie is swept into a spooky mansion filled with murder, hatred and deceit. Once Happy (Rachel's mother) gets murdered, Annie is determined to get her father off the hook, and solve the case.
Overall, this wasn't a horrible book, but if you're looking for a great holiday mystery try some by Valerie Wolzien.
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on October 28, 2001
I've picked up Hart's mysteries before and enjoyed them for what they are worth...very light mysteries, with unsubstantial plots and not very 'deeply-drawn' characters. This one was probably the least enjoyable I've read, and since I like my books a little more realistic and with more substance and good writing, I doubt I will be back to this particular author.
Hart means well, and I know she has a big following. But as another reviewer has mentioned, Hart really expects the reader to swallow a very poorly written and poorly plotted reason for the female protagonist's father for being missing in her life, and then gives an improbable reason for him showing up again, along with a step-sister she didn't know existed? Not only that but she had this sister apparently living on the island too? And when she sees the girl, she recognizes familial facial features?
This island is a place where most people know each other except during tourist season, yet there seems to be a young doppelganger on the island with features similar to Annie's?
Sorry, doesn't make sense to me...
I had no problems figuring out who the probable suspect was, since there were too many obvious suspects, and I took a violent dislike to the character immediately. A mystery is a good one for me that retains a little of the 'mystery' until the very end! Once again, I felt that this was a case of an author getting too familiar with her characters, too comfortable with her audience, and she just rattled off the book as fast as possible.
I am sure my review won't discourage those who are enamored of this type of light reading. Not enough literary skill or 'meat' for my taste.
Karen Sadler,
University of Pittsburgh
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on November 2, 2000
It's the Christmas season, and Annie Darling should be knee deep in getting her store, Death On Demand, ready for the store's annual Christmas party, and for all those lovely Christmas shoppers. Instead of which she find's herself caught up in a murder investigation that involves her estranged father (whom she's sworn never to speak to again) and his stepdaughter. And to top all that, her mother-in-law seems to have finally turned the corner into full flown dementia and is now hanging out at graveyards, talking to dead husbands! It certainly doesn't feel like Christmas. Perhaps Halloween has come around again to Broward's Rock?
It all starts off when ex-movie queen, Marguerite Dumaney Ladson, decides to invite all her remaining family over for a Christmas celebration. She then plans to inform them that she is donating all her money to Dr. Emory Swanson for psychic research. Marguerite's sister, Happy, is not too pleased about this. And has come up with a plan to stop her sister. However Happy also has a problem of her own: her daughter, Rachel, is dating a young man Happy is not too keen on. So Happy invites her ex-husband, Pudge Laurance, over to help her make Rachel see sense. And that's how Annie gets involved in the goings-on at the Ladosn mansion. At first, Annie is reluctant to have anything to do with the father who deserted her mother and her. But she allows herself to be persuaded to give Pudge another chance. And in the process, Annie becomes quite close with Rachel.
Things are not quite working out to Happy's satisfaction. Neither Pudge nor Annie support her in her effort to keep Rachel and her young man apart. Also the atmosphere at the mansion is poisonous with everyone up at arms over Marguerite's decision to give all her money to Dr. Swanson. However everyone is shocked when Happy of all people is found murdered. The police close in on Pudge as the most likely suspect; but the evidence seems to point to Rachel. Annie is sure that neither of them committed the murder. However it is not until another murder is committed that Annie begins to understand what going on at the Ladson mansion, and why someone would committ murder in order to keep things as they are.
This is a nice cosy murder -- not quite as engrossing as the first few Annie Darling mysteries which were, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. With this novel, I felt that a couple of the side plots got in the way at times; and I'd have liked it better if a couple of characters -- the Ladson siblings in particular -- were developed a bit more. Other than that, I enjoyed reading this novel.
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on January 25, 2002
I really like these characters, Annie, Max, Laurel, Dora, Emma et al, and the sense of place, Browards Rock is great. I don't really read these for the mystery aspect, so I wasn't looking for that, but this started with a really great premise, Annie's long lost father. That story line somehow got lost in the confusion. Not one of Hart's best, but an enjoyable read for a rainy afternoon, with some great coffee and chocolate rasberry brownies.
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