by Bluette Matthey
Two Murders Too Many transports us to the rural town of Shannon, Midwest Ohio in the mid-1950s. In the small, mainly farming community, not much goes unnoticed so when two barns are set alight followed by a disappearing wife, the intrigues and grievances that have been simmering among the townsfolk begin to slowly boil over…
I thought Two Murders Too Many was charmingly well-written and skilfully plotted. The opening I found a touch nervous and scattered; but Ms Matthey quickly finds a rhythm and subsequently, the book is hard to put down. The backbone of the story is the characterisation. Each character, even minor ones such as Fred Birknauer, the drunken wallpaper hanger and Melvina, the Kitchen Supervisor are imbued with such originally quirky yet concise descriptive detail that they are immediately animated and a joy to read. It reminded me in both tone and design of Steinbeck’s descriptive one or two liners which sprang his characters instantly to eccentric life.
I like when writers bring a little foreknowledge into the narrative from their own heritage, and it was a nice touch mentioning the Swiss enclave; it lent the story an unquestionable authenticity. A further integral element were the given names and nicknames that Ms Matthey gifts her characters; they are not overstated but just beautifully nuanced writerly details and ever-so-slightly knowingly humorous. Her description of place, such as JDs barbers and The Pine Restaurant, is equally rich in imagination and shot through the lazy, sepia lens of the 1950s. It’s also a clever technique; the warm, open simplicity of mid-Century Midwest with its cast of comforting idiosyncrasies brings into sharp contrast the atrocities committed within. There are some brutal scenes in this book and some deeply troubled people. The conflicting difference between the easy, fluid pace of the narrative that matches the context and the violence of the crimes juxtaposes admirably to hold reader attention. As does the plot; it seems slightly naïve but it’s layered; little twists and side angles abound making the story a thoroughly enjoyable whodunnit which kept me guessing although I did wonder if a few of the plot detours were needed and I also thought the last few chapters were superfluous; they seemed a bit of an add-on. However, Charlie Simmons is perfectly drawn as the Police Officer and there is a definite future series with him at the helm which I would not hesitate to read.
Too Murders Too Many is a captivating and neatly crafted murder mystery that showcases a writer with a wonderfully imaginative eye for detail and story. Highly recommended. Buy from: