by John Bowen
Paperback, 370 pg.
John Bowen, 2016
Read: February 6 – 7, 2017
Nothing against Adrian Monk — either in book or TV form — he was brilliant, fun, and his OCD was treated with sensitivity. But also for laughs — the combination wasn’t easy to pull off. But OCD isn’t really a laughing matter — just ask Greg Unsworth, the protagonist of John Bowen’s compelling cozy mystery. Greg wants to be normal, he doesn’t want to be kept awake because a tea cup might be out of alignment with the others, he doesn’t want to lock and relock and relock and relock his front door just to be sure it took, he wants to be able to cross the road when he wants to. Partially this would be for his sake, but mostly, it’s to help his brother out, because he’s really bothered with Greg’s OCD.
Beth Grue doesn’t believe in normal — she knows everyone is a little not-normal in their own way, she’s fully embraced her non-normality. She just wants everyone else to treat her as no more different than anyone else — cerebral palsy or no.
The two of them meet when they discover the dead body of one of Greg’s neighbors together, which leads to a fairly unlikely friendship. They understand the others struggles, they accept each other for what they are (well, almost, Beth isn’t as patient always as she wants to be). As the friendship develops, they begin to realize that the body they discovered was one of a pretty high number of accidental deaths in Greg’s neighborhood recently. Not only that, but someone has been sending Greg advance notice of these accidents (which casts a shadow on the whole “accident” idea, no?).
There’s a great subplot about Beth taking a class in mystery writing — which allows Bowen to comment on the genre, while helping Beth to think both about her novel in-progress and the murders she and Greg are convinced are being committed.
And the mystery? It was pretty well constructed, and the reveal was wonderful. There’s a handy red herring that was so obvious that the character might as well have been named Mr./Ms. Hareng Rouge. I didn’t mind him at all because Bowen used it well; our protagonists learn how to investigate (and how not to investigate) through wasting time with the false trail; and the way Greg discovered just how wrong he’d been was so much fun.
Right up until a couple of pages before the reveal of the killer I had a 3 competing theories — all of which seemed pretty likely (well, 2 of them did, anyway). I’m glad the killer is who it was, their motive — and best of all, how Bowen handled the reveal. One of the most satisfying conclusions to a mystery that I’ve read in ages.
It wasn’t perfect, but it got pretty close. I enjoyed the characters, their wants, their interaction, their fumbling attempts to solve the mystery – I can’t recommend this highly enough, really. It’s a cozy that has enough of an edge and dept to appeal to those who prefer their detectives a little more hard-boiled, without getting too messy, too violent, too un-cozy for the core audience.