Sunday, July 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Ransom at the Opera by Fred Hunter

I love being proven right as much as the next person. While reading a murder mystery, however, much of the fun for me lies in harboring doubts about my guesses as to the killer's method, motive and opportunity. I simply couldn't believe how quickly I nailed two of the elements in Fred Hunter's latest Jeremy Ransom mystery -- before the murder occurred. Hoping I guessed wrong became my only impetus to finish Ransom at the Opera, thus leeching the pleasure from my reading experience.
Book: Fred Hunter, Ransom at the OperaElderly Emily Charters attends the opening night of a highly hyped production of Carmen at Chicago's new performing arts center only to watch the actor playing Don José die onstage. When Detective Jeremy Ransom takes over the case, he quickly surmises Riccardo Nuevo was murdered. Ransom must ferret out the murderer from the dozens of suspects in the cast, crew and other offices involved in the production.

Detective Ransom follows a tortured path to unravel the internal relationships of the fledgling opera company to determine whether Nuevo was even the intended victim. Nuevo's colleagues' over-the-top off-stage "performances" make Ransom's job that much harder. The clunky prose, inundation of sight and sound details to the exclusion of all other senses, and lack of character identification sap the reader's enjoyment.

Successful series mysteries devote as much attention to the sleuth and his or her partner as to the murder plot itself. Who can recall a Sherlock Holmes plot without fondly bringing to mind his legendary banter with Dr. Watson? And yet, memorable character interaction seems curiously absent from Ransom at the Opera. Miss Emily appears in only three or four scenes, hardly enough for a reader unfamiliar with the series to become properly acquainted with her. And of Ransom's badgered partner, Detective Gerald White, only his copious note-taking made a lasting impression upon me. Even Ransom himself, who doesn't come upon the scene until halfway into the book, eludes reader identification.

"I was a fool," Ransom laments to Miss Emily at the end of the novel. He feels personally responsible for what happened in the aftermath of the denouement. The motive "was right in front of me." Yes, it was. And since Detective Ransom's performance scarcely brought the house down, I won't be sleuthing out any more of his adventures.

(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)

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