The long-awaited mystery review

itsaomToday I’m taking a look at In the Shadows by Susan Finlay.  I met her through Facebook and when news of her impending release was announced, I pledged my time to a review.  But first, the blurb:

There is a stranger amongst the residents of the cave-riddled village of Reynier, France.  Suspicious, they believe there’s only one reason Maurelle Dupre would be lurking in their small village – she’s a gypsy, a thief.  But a former Chicago detective turned mystery author, Dave Martin, who happens to be visiting his French grandmother, isn’t so sure about the beautiful stranger when happenstance causes them to meet.  He wonders why she seems so frightened and distrustful.  He knows he shouldn’t get involved.  The last time he trusted a woman in distress, the consequences resulted in the loss of his detective’s shield and his wife.  But, as always, the detective in him can’t seem to leave well enough alone.

However, what Dave couldn’t know is how persuading Maurelle to reveal herself will ultimately unveil something far worse than mere theft.

In the Shadows is a story of trust, belonging, and murder.

I’d like to start by saying that I don’t read a whole lot of mysteries.  I probably have a few in my massive TBR pile, but I think the last book I read that could properly be called a mystery is Mary Higgins Clark‘s Where Are the Children?.  It’s not that I don’t like a good mystery – I do.  It’s just not a genre I’ve read widely.  Also, this review may contain mild spoilers.  Read further at your own risk.

I really wanted to like this book, but I struggled to turn off my inner editor while reading.  The first chapter is wonderful, and ended with a great hook, but after that…The pace of the story seemed to grind to a halt with the introduction of Dave Martin and the town of Reynier.

I grew up and still live in a small town, and the pace of the following dozen or so chapters, the ones set in Reynier, perfectly matches the pace of small-town life, which is to say they moved at a snail’s pace.  I understand that a lot of it was worldbuilding and character development, but what kept me sticking with the story at this point was my promise to review it.

Dave’s relationship with Simone, the granddaughter of his grandmother’s best friend, lacked any passion.  It seemed he was only with her because she was there and he had nothing better to do; he didn’t seem to care about her the way a man should care about someone they’re dating.  His relationship with Maurelle was little better; I had the sense that he was helping her less because he cared about her and more because he wanted to prove to himself that his idea of who he was, both as a man and as an investigator, was not flawed.

Dave’s relationships with women weren’t the only things that felt forced, though (although now that I think about it, this could possibly have been – and in Simone’s case, it was, I think – intentional, a depiction of the depth of his trust issues, perhaps?).  There were places where the dialogue felt stilted; a bit of rewording could have made it flow better, and actually could have tightened up other areas as well.  Chapters – not all of them, but enough of them – ended in odd places, leaving me with the feeling that the author was maybe unsure how to tie up the scene and so simply moved onto the next one.  That’s not something I can fault, because I do the same thing and trying to write through those hard places is, well, hard.

The ending left me feeling confused at first, and then annoyed, because it ended just as oddly as many of the chapters.  It was too abrupt, too sudden, and left me wanting more instead of feeling satisfied.  I actually thought there was another chapter that I was missing somehow, because the page count didn’t seem to jive, but I was wrong.

See?  Told you I battled my inner editor.  All this and I didn’t even keep notes as I read.

But there were also things about this book that I thought were very well done.  As I said, the first chapter was wonderful.  It was just the right length, the pacing was quick but not too fast, and it left me asking all the right questions (Who is this girl?  What is she running from?  Why?  And how will she fix it?).

The descriptions of the French countryside and the villages in which the story is set were also very well done.  I could see the cave homes and the mountain passes and Reynier’s main street as easily as if they were right outside my window.  I had a little more difficulty picturing London, but as I said, I’m a small-town girl.  Major urban areas are somewhat foreign to me.  The people, too, for the most part were easy to picture – Fabienne reminded me of Grandmother Fa from Mulan, Simone looked remarkably like Rosanna Arquette, and Ian Waitley strongly resembled Ralph Waite in my mind, just to name a few.

The action really picked up in the second half of the book, and I didn’t figure out whodunnit till Dave did (maybe slightly before).  When the murderer was finally revealed, it was as it should have been; that is, I felt that it couldn’t have been anyone else.  It would have been nice to see a bit more of Dave and Greg working together before Greg left for France, but then I’m a sucker for seeing relationships of all stripes rekindled and renewed.

I really wanted to like this book, and I am glad that I stuck with it to the end, but I think the best I can say about it is that it was okay.  I look forward to seeing more titles from Ms. Finlay in the future, and I hope that next time my inner editor will stay bound and gagged in her closet so that I can read as a reader and not as a writer.

(c) 2013.  All rights reserved.

Thoughts: You got 'em, I want 'em!

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