My daughter gave me “Maid of Murder” by Amanda Flower for my birthday as I was dying to read it. It had been nominated for an Agatha Award in 2010 for Best First Novel, which is usually the sign of a good book. Plus the blurb on the front compared it to Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow Mystery series, which I love. If that wasn’t enough, it was about weddings, a topic that I always enjoy. But I have mixed emotions about this book, I’ll explain why.
The main character is India Hayes, a college librarian from a small college near Cleveland, Ohio. Her mother is the minister in town and her father is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of an accident. Her parents are vegetarians and activists, strongly committed to doing what is right. Her brother, Mark, a brilliant mathematician, teaches at the same college where India works. Unfortunately he hasn’t finished his dissertation, a sore point for the family and the college. Her brother also suffers from depression.
As the story begins, India has agreed to be the bridesmaid in her childhood friend Olivia’s wedding to Kirk, owner of a string of fitness centers in Virginia. The catch here is that India’s brother, Mark is in love with Olivia and has been since his youth. Olivia knows this and toys with his affections; however she always prefers the handsome jocks over Mark, the sensitive nerd. Mark has been stalking Olivia for years. And Olivia has often treated him cruelly which plays into his depression. Obviously Mark is unhappy about the upcoming nuptials and visits Olivia’s parent’s house one more time before the wedding to try to convince Olivia not to go through with the wedding. Mark is thrown out, but not before he realizes that his sister India is there celebrating with Olivia.
Shortly thereafter, Mark finds Olivia unconscious in a fountain at the college and police suspect that he is the one who pushed her in. With the situation looking very bad for her brother, India decides to investigate.
Writing a funny mystery offers challenges. While the book has great characters, and some light moments, I found myself feeling very sorry for the brother, rather than laughing most of the time. Amanda Flowers has done a great job of describing the symptoms of a very depressed person. When the parents refuse out of some kind of ethical stand against the justice system to post a bail for him, I was furious. What kind of parents would allow a clinically depressed child accused of murder to be subject to prison when they could avoid it? Especially one that they believe is innocent.
On the positive side, Amanda Flowers writes well and the book was a quick read. I loved Theodore, her brother Mark’s 28 lbs. Maine Coon Cat that walked on a leash. I found the characters in the story compelling. The fact that I could be upset about the treatment of the brother in the story is testament to the fact that she writes strong characters. The story offered a great puzzle and I didn’t figure out who did it until the end.
I may be in the minority of reviewers that didn’t love this book. I do believe that Amanda Flowers has great potential as a mystery writer, and plan to read more of her work in the future.
Three Stars out of Five.
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