Death at the Dakota by M.K. Graff: A pleasant little near-cozy mystery/romance that’s sure to earn some fans

 Death at the Dakota Death at the Dakota

by M.K. Graff
Series: Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries, #2

eARC, 336 pg.
Bridle Path Press, 2019

Read: April 29 – May 1, 2019


So Trudy Genova, a nurse turned TV medical advisor, is acting as the on-set medical staff for a made-for-TV movie. She’s primarily supposed to be keeping an eye on the star to help with her undisclosed pregnancy, but she’s available for everyone. Things are going swimmingly for her on set, everything seems fine with the pregnancy, etc. Until towards the end of shooting, the star doesn’t come back from lunch and isn’t seen for a couple of days. Not long afterward, another member of the cast ends up murdered. Trudy, a would-be mystery novelist, has a Nancy Drew streak compelling her to look into both the disappearance and murder on her own.

Meanwhile, the NYPD Detective she met in the first volume of the series and has been dating, Ned O’Malley and his partner have caught a pretty grizzly murder on top of the string of burglaries they’re investigating. The murder investigation soon turns to a wealthy family and their potential prodigal son. They’re also tasked with the missing person’s case (and then the murder) giving plenty of opportunity for Trudy’s antics to be discovered and disapproved of. Although the fruits of her time are used by the same detective that doesn’t want her getting them.

Either storyline would be enough for a novel, but combining the two of them is a pretty strong move that allows Graff to keep things moving and see these characters in very different worlds. Trudy’s chapters are told in 1st person and have a strong sense of immediacy. Ned’s chapters are in the third person. The change in voice is subtle, but it’s there, and adds to the effect of telling the two stories in the same book. It’s like getting two S. J. Rozan Lydia Chin/Bill Smith novels mixed together. For me, the Ned chapters are the most appealing part of the book — as are his cases. But this is the Trudy Genova series, and the weight of the book falls on her adventures (and I think most readers will find her chapters more appealing)

I had a few issues that I can’t not mention in the interests of full disclosure. I’m not opposed to the characters in mystery novels I enjoy having a love life, and even spending a lot of the book talking and thinking about their significant others (or potential significant others). Robert B. Parker was too formative for me to have a problem with that — and I’ve seen it done well too often since then to really have a problem with the idea (from noir to cozies and all stops in between). But here the romance story was a touch too much for my taste, I don’t need all the space devoted to Trudy’s angst over the right wardrobe for her romantic evening and so on. But that’s me, I can see a lot of readers loving it.

Dialogue isn’t Graff’s forte, too often it seems like she learned dialogue writing from Law & Order or Blue Bloods — particularly the more cop-talk passages. For example, lead detective to his partner: “Sometimes people don’t want to get involved, worried about testifying to what they saw.” Because his partner somehow made detective in one of the most competitive departments in the world without noticing that. The sports banter the two detectives reads like someone who knows nothing about baseball imagining what fans saying to each other. As long as you think of this as a TV procedural, you can get through this kind of thing without too much bother beyond a quick eye-roll. But novel dialogue should be better than that — if you feel you have to hold your audience’s hand that much, move those observations to interior monologue.

I think the writing could be a little tighter, another grammar pass would be a good idea, and there were a few too many awkwardly phrased sentences for me to not mention it. When I find myself quoting Inigo Montoya, “… that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” repeatedly, I’m taken out of the story — forced to analyze rather than just enjoy. Especially when I’m bothered enough that I have to stop and look something up just to see who’s right, the author or me. These technical matters didn’t ruin the novel for me, but it certainly detracted from my appreciation. I’ve had a run lately of novels ruined by style and technique, and that wasn’t the case here — I didn’t once regret reading this (what a nice change), I just wish Graff had done better by her own work.

Yes, this is a sequel, but it’s easy to read as a stand-alone — you’ll pick up everything you need to know. It’s completely accessible for anyone who hasn’t read the first — but people who dig this will undoubtedly enjoy Trudy’s previous adventure. This was a fine little mystery novel with some fun characters. Ultimately, it’s not really my thing — but I can think of a half-dozen people in my immediate circle who’ll really enjoy this and will want more (some of whom I buy books for occasionally, and think I will make gifts of this). Whatever problems I had with character or writing are forgivable and easily passed over — the characters and writing have a charm and it was a pleasant read. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read more Graff or Trudy, I’m sure I’d have a pretty good time. I’m just not going to rush out and look for them.

—–

3 Stars
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

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