Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Short of an Academy Award

I finally have something that I need to post about, so I am taking advantage of my contributor status to Cliff's blog.

Some of you may be aware of a nifty Canadian site called Mini Book Expo. They will send you free books, with the expectation that you review them, and hopefully post said review somewhere people can read it. While the site is Canadian, some of their titles are offered worldwide, so if the phrase "free books" makes you drool as it does to me, check them out.

I recently received the first book I requested from them, Murder at Hotel Cinema by Daniel Edward Craig; published by Midnight Ink, an imprint of Llewellyn Publications.


First off, I must say, there will be a spoiler or two in this review. I tried to think of a way to express my opinion without doing that, but I just can't. I won't give away the villain though, I promise.

I'm a sucker for a mystery novel; even cheesy predictable ones. I adore Agatha Christie. I love the TV show Monk. And yet this book somehow missed the mark with me.

I don't really feel like paraphrasing the dust-jacket, so I'm just going to do the lazy thing and copy it.

After losing the love of his life, dedicated hotelier Trevor Lambert takes a job as general manager of Hotel Cinema, a multi-million dollar rejuvenation of an Old Hollywood motor inn. It's the scene of a fabulous opening party until Tinseltown's hottest star, Chelsea Fricks, takes a fatal dive from the penthouse balcony. Rumors fly about a reckless publicity stunt or fame-driven suicide, but Chelsea's stab wounds tell another story. Hotel Cinema becomes the setting for a comical murder mystery starring Chelsea's pit bull publicist, her pin-up boyfriend, a star-struck detective, a tasteless tabloid reporter, and Trevor's insufferable boss. Struggling to protect his prized employees from the incriminating glare of the LAPD and the prying eyes of reporters, Trevor is forced to step into the spotlight, risking everything to expose the true killer.

Everybody with me so far? Great, on with the review.

With the story being set in Hollywood, many of the supporting characters display a shallow vapidity that drives me insane. Fortunately, it's clear the author does not intend for his readers to embrace this character flaw, so I did not have to fling the book across the room and cause our cat to wake up from his hard day of napping.

The mystery itself is pretty compelling. Mr Craig manages to let out enough clues to the killers identity intermixed with a few red herrings to keep you in relative suspense until the climax. Well, just before the climax, anyway.

My biggest issue lay in the character development of some of the more important figures in the book. The Hotel Cinema's owner and his family are a collection of merged stereotypes. Instead of feeling sympathy for Trevor in having to deal with them I found myself wondering how in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster he hadn't politely excused himself from the job interview, or at the very least parted ways in the first week of employment.

Which leads into the largest miss of the entire book for me, Trevor himself. In trying to paint a character dedicated to his employees, Mr. Craig overshoots the mark. I got the feeling that if he could have attached a flashing neon sign to Trevor reading:


he would have done it. Ok, so there's never any actual mention of kitten-loving, but only because the author didn't think of it.

Trevor is also dealing with his fiancee having died in a plane crash approximately 1 year before the events in the book. At first, it seemed that this sub plot was simply a framework for how Trevor interprets events around him. Had it stayed that way, it would have been a strong tool in establishing Trevor's motivations and personality. Sadly it was not left there.

About halfway through the book, there started to appear hints that perhaps the fiancee hadn't actually boarded the plane, and that a mix up in boarding passes with another woman (who coincidentally looked much like the fiancee) enabled the fiancee to simply walk away while the world believed she died. I kept hoping that I was wrong, that the story wasn't going there. To my disappointment, the fiancee shows up during the tension filled climax.

To add insult to injury, after such an unlikely re-union, Mr Craig uses only half a page to explain why someone would allow those near and dear to her to believe she was dead for a year. And why she then ignored whatever good reasons she thought she had to turn back up. It also must me noted, this half page is mostly exposition. The fiancee gets to utter exactly one sentence.

Don't get me wrong. I love romance. I love happy endings. The Princess Bride, Ever After, and many others happily reside in my DVD collection. I wanted Rose to be able to stay with the Doctor (if you have to ask, well, I'm sorry). But this was too much even for me. Ending on that note soured the whole book for me.

Overall, it was a decent book. Just don't read the last page.

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