Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Book Review: Go to My Grave

By Jami Deise

Agatha Christie was the first mystery writer I loved, and she set me on the path of following female authors who wrote mysteries featuring female protagonists. Of course Ms. Marple was a lot older than Kinsey Millhone or Tess Monaghan, but it generally didn’t take her as long to figure out who the killer was as it took those young whippersnappers. But that wasn’t the reason I preferred her to Hercule Poirot. It was because Ms. Marple was always getting invited to those wonderful weekend parties at some rich friend’s seaside or country estate. She had a lot of friends; there were a lot of parties, and sure someone usually died but there was tea and lovely strolls in the garden or by the sea, so what’s a dead body or two in exchange for all that?

Author Catriona McPherson, who won an Agatha award for her mystery Quiet Neighbors, must have been similarly inspired by Ms. Marple, because her current mystery, Go to My Grave, takes place at one of those British seaside houses. Six cousins and two spouses have rented out the Breakers bed and breakfast to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Sasha and his wife, Kim. But not until the group arrives at the Breakers do they realize it’s the same place where this same group (minus the spouses) celebrated Sasha’s 16th birthday. No parents were in attendance, but two local girls – Carmen and her sister Lynsey—were there. And something happened at that party, something that someone is determined to make Sasha remember through practical jokes, mean gags, and more sinister tricks.

The story is actually narrated by Donna, who co-owns the home with her mother, who is off-site at a wedding convention. This party is the first event at the Breakers, and Donna is overwhelmed and nervous. When things start to go wrong—the cousins fight; Sasha is a creep—she doesn’t know how to handle it.

In alternating chapters, the story gives readers Carmen’s point of view in 1991. Initially excited about being summoned to the party – she’s only had a glimpse of Sasha at the beach, and her mother is the cleaning lady at the home Sasha’s parents have rented for the weekend—she soon realizes that these teenagers view her and Lynsey as a joke. But at 14 and 12, Carmen and Lynsey still lack the maturity to leave before things go terribly wrong.

I enjoyed the book, but I had some issues with it. With Donna being the first-person narrator, I found it hard to keep track of all the cousins – there were so many of them, and she was meeting them for the first time and could only tell the reader her impressions, without any back story. And none of the cousins were likable – I was eager for them to start dying. Unfortunately, that took a while. With the inter-cutting between Carmen’s story and present day, the pacing wasn’t as quick as most mystery writers prefer.

But the bigger issue is that McPherson, unlike Christie, shows all her cards to the reader. I found it relatively easy to deduce who was behind everything (although the “how” was rather unbelievable). However, figuring out “who done it” and being right are definitely part of what makes the mystery genre so enjoyable. But the best ones are the ones that leaves you surprised at the end… the ones that make you go back and reread the book so you can see the clues you missed.

The writing in Go to My Grave is very good, and excellent in the 1991 sections narrated by Carmen. And with #MeToo taking up more and more space in the national conversation, the book illustrates once again why some girls keep quiet—as well as the type of person who covers up this behavior rather than punishing it.

Thanks to Minotaur for the book in exchange for an honest review. Visit all the stops on the tour.

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