The Begonia Killer by Jeff Bond, published by Jeff Bond Books on 1sy July
The plot is quite simple: Molly McGill takes an assignment from an old lady who thinks her next-door neighbour has abducted two young boys.
Molly is taking a PhD in psychiatry and the story is coloured by this. Many of her interactions are quite subtle psychological plays, and this is one of the strengths of the book. Here’s one:
All five sense are intricately linked to cognition. A bite of vanilla sheet cake in an empty bakery tastes different from the same bite taken before a hundred cheering friends and family in your wedding dress. The sight of a geriatric man with a shaggy white beard evokes one reaction when he’s wearing rags and another when the same face appears under a red hat with a white pom-pom.
So, when Molly first encounters the suspect, there is a psychological build-up of tension that is nicely managed, with the lingering threat that things will very quickly turn violent. That encounter turns out to be conclusive – though not in the way one would think – and the story picks up from there.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t pick up in a strong way. There are no red herrings, not obvious alternative bad guys. Mostly, it’s Molly agonising about whether or not to pursue the case. She does, and ultimately the story goes on to the usual genre punch-up, albeit with a psychological twist.
Somehow, the tension is mostly of the wrong sort. I never seriously doubt who the bad guy is, and I never seriously feel that Molly is in mortal danger. I never get vested in the victims – perhaps because Molly herself doesn’t – and the romantic aspect is more distraction than plot.
That said, there are some pithy descriptions:
Gutters dangled off the roof like spaghetti off a toddler’s abandoned plate. A refrigerator and TV were strewn around the dirt yard, both spilling their electronic guts.
… and another…
[I[ extended my hand for a shake. When Art took it, I felt the disappointment in his touch like damp laundry in the dryer: a whole hour tumbling around for nothing.
All told, The Begonia Killer tries to be too many things: it is by turns humourous, romantic, tense and a detective book. All that could be achieved between two covers, but the book is too short to give space for these themes to breathe. Double the length and bring in an obvious red-herring-bad-guy for the next in the series, and I’d take it off the shelf.