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Death Comes Darkly by David S. Pederson

Death Comes Darkly

by David S. Pederson

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and Bold Strokes Books in exchange for a honest review.

My first book by this author and first MM book I’ve read through Bold Strokes Books.

I was going to add a comment about how I normally read lesbian romance fiction through Bold Strokes Books, both in relation to the MM nature of the book, and to the mystery. But then I looked it up. I’ve read at least 14 mysteries through Bold Strokes Books – granted the vast majority of those books are in one series, the Micky Knight series.

The Characters
The book is from the point of view of one Heath Barrington. If this was a romance I’d probably include a large amount of information about each character. Though, I’d probably just be talking about two characters, not all of them of importance. But since this is a mystery, and each little fact might be an important clue, my character descriptions will have to be relatively bare bones.

Heath Barrington - a police detective from Milwaukee. The reader learns relatively early on that Heath: (1) missed WWII because a) flat foot; b) was in the police force during the war; (2) is a gay man who is a) not out to his family or others; but b) has had homosexual relationships; and c) really, and I mean really, enjoys gazing lustfully upon the features of other men. The book opens with Heath in the last stages of getting ready to head off to Lake Geneva – he had been invited to go there by a rich stranger who indicated that he wanted to meet Heath – implication being that it’s related to Heath’s one police investigation, which he had just completed.
Significant other connections: Talks with his mother on the phone; father alive as well, though he is only mentioned; there’s an aunt – sister of his mother, who the reader is given to understand is more sophisticated than her sister; and there’s a boyfriend named Alan Keyes. But he’ll have his own little paragraph.

Alan Keyes - police officer in Milwaukee. Is, apparently, dating Heath Barrington, though the relationship is new-ish (they seemed to have a longer term relationship at the start of the book, but then things started popping up indicating that their relationship was actually of a much more recent occurrence). He gets his own little paragraph because he makes an appearance in Lake Geneva – he’s Heath’s plus one.

Dexter Darkly - a rich old man who has invited a bunch of people to his lake house for a weekend. He is, in his way, this books Mr. Boddy – the host in the film Clue who invited a bunch of people to his house, though all his visitors, it would appear, hate their host. In this case, Dexter’s invitations went to family members, and to a police detective. Everyone, though, but for the police, the butler, and the cook know each other. Unlike in Clue.
Significant other connections: Basically everyone he invited, plus Nigel Darkly – his favorite offspring; Constance Darkly – his first wife.

Harwood ‘Woody’ Acres - a young man who had been a ‘special’ friend of Nigel Darkly – Dexter’s son. Dexter drove off Woody as he didn’t think he was a good influence on his son. He received an invitation, like some of the others, and decided to attend the weekend festivities.
Significant other connections: Nigel Darkly – his dead gay lover (well, they were lovers when Nigel was alive; I didn’t mean to imply that Nigel was a vampire or anything like that, because he isn’t).

Lorraine Darkly - Dexter’s second wife. They divorced about 2 or so years ago. Received an invitation to attend the weekend events.

Violet Darkly Atwater - Dexter’s bitter daughter who had spent ten years on earth before her brother Nigel appeared. She was never in her father’s ‘good graces’, since she’s a girl, but she definitely got displaced completely when Nigel came along. She has kids and is married to Dr. Acres. Dexter didn’t attend the wedding, and it isn’t super clear, but I think Dexter has never met his daughter’s children.

Dr. Preston Atwater - Violet’s husband, a medical doctor, and not formally invited by Dexter to visit during the weekend (the invitation was to Violet Darkly, not Violet Atwater).

Mr. Donovan Doubleday - Dexter Darkly’s brother-in-law, brother of Dexter’s first wife Constance. Was not formally invited to the weekend events by Dexter, but by his niece Violet.

Henry and Nora Bishop - somewhat elderly butler and cook, who had just joined Darkly’s employee shortly before winterizing the house. In which they also lived during the winter, by themselves, to ‘watch over it’.

The Setting
The year is 1947. The place is Lake Geneva. I’m not exactly sure where that is located, though it appears to be within shortish train rides from Milwaukee and Chicago (possibly Lake Geneva Wisconsin). The ‘summer people’ normally turn up in the summer, specifically on or after Memorial Day.

Dexter Darkly, though, has invited a group of people for a weekend visit before the official start of the season. So things are, as would be expected, colder than normal. And the house wasn’t built to be a year round house. Most of the action in the book takes place in that house (or surrounding it).

The Mystery
With the set-up being the way it is, the murder victim should be clear as day, eh? There is a gathering of people at a lake house. Everyone, except supposedly the butler, cook, and the two police officers, has a motive – and a hatred of the owner of that house. Naturally, that means that the owner is the one who died. And everyone had opportunity and means.

There’s a storm that hit around the time the murder occurred, and outside communication, as it tends to do in these types of books, has been cut off for a short period of time (a night? Longer?).

So there is a murder. Due to the circumstances of the events, there are a limited number of possible suspects. All but four have stated motives (the husband of Violet, Dr. Acres, has a less visible motive but is the husband of Dexter’s daughter (implication being that whatever motive that Violet might have could conceivably be stretched to include the husband; or, you know, being the husband of the rich Dexter Darkly’s only living offspring could be a motive in and of itself). Those four without obvious motives being Heath Barrington, Alan Keyes, Nora & Henry Bishop. Those with obvious motives include Woody Acres, Violet Atwater, and Lorraine Darkly. Those with slightly less obvious motives would include Dr. Atwater, and Mr. Donovan Doubleday.

Just like I mentioned the film Clue in another section, there’s a vaguely strong vibe coming off the book for various reasons. Gathering of people who hate the host. Storm outside. Certain identity questions. Etc. But then again, there was also a vague vibe of Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie, at least there was before I started. A gathering of people to a remote location. Cut off for a certain amount of time. Death descends . . . except there’s less death here than I’d expect so that wipes that connection, eh?

The Police Work
Fiction of a certain era, the 1920s Golden Age, had a tendency to include a scene wherein the police talk in front of a crowd of suspects. Various ways that can come about, but they tended to do that when they wished to ‘reveal’ what happened, or – more often, wished to get a suspect to do or say something revealing. The point is that they already have the facts. There is a purpose to their madness, so to speak.

The idea of interviewing witnesses/suspects separate from one another was a concept known by 1947. At least in fiction. I know, because I’ve read books from before then (written before then; not referring to books set before then) that made a point of having separate interviews.

I mention because the very first interview, if I recall the sequence right, was a joint one. Involving both Nora and Henry Bishop (butler and cook – married to each other). Then some separate interviews, then an interview conducted before all parties during dinner – including in said interview those who had not yet had a discussion with the out-of-jurisdiction police (Heath Barrington and Alan Keyes are police in Milwaukee not Lake Geneva). And the thing you would expect to happen, happened – well, one of the things, a conflict broke out with people pointing fingers and the like. What do you expect if you start a discussion like that at dinner? (note: I mentioned that dramatic ‘reveal’ in the drawing room type of thing that occurred in 1920s books, well I didn’t mean to imply, by mentioning the dinner group interview, that the dramatic reveal did or didn’t occur. I think I’m being pointlessly cryptic there.)

Poor police work there. *shrugs* I don’t know, there’s a point of mentioning that Barrington has had only one case as a detective. Maybe he’s just really green?

That group interview thing gets repeated more than once. Annoying that. More police work appears much more in line with what I expect. That group interview thing, though, reads like something someone saw in a film or read in an old book (‘I strode about the room amongst them as I spoke. I’d seen a detective do that in a movie once.’ – location 2753 of 3140). Mmphs.

The book didn’t immediately pull me in, but there were definitely moments when I felt drawn into the action/events. Vaguely confusing about the number of gay men bouncing around in the book. Heath’s there because he’s the star of the show; Alan gets pulled in because he’s Heath’s ‘plus one’ for the weekend vacation at Lake Geneva. But then there’s also the dead son Nigel, and Nigel’s ‘special friend’ Woody Acres. I believe that’s four more than I usually encounter in mysteries set in the early part of the 20th century.

Moving on to the mystery – it’s well written for what it is. Intriguing even. It’s relatively thin, but still, you don’t need a whole lot to create a mystery novel. Some odd choices by the guy unofficially playing detective, sure he is a police detective, but not in that jurisdiction.

Overall . . . . you know how I keep mentioning the film Clue? Well, I have good reason for doing so. Complicated book, it was. Interesting. Enjoyable. Readable and entertaining. And if this actually is a start to a series, I’d read the next.

March 8 2016
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  Lexxi | Jun 26, 2016 |
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