Friday, December 30, 2011

Death on Demand, by Carolyn G. Hart


Death on Demand
by Carolyn G. Hart
1987


If you don't like authors who name drop mysteries they've read then you need to run screaming from Death on Demand, should you ever happen to encounter it. Given that Carolyn Hart's protagonist is the owner of a mystery bookshop on a South Carolina island that caters to the tourist trade, this is not as off-putting as it might sound. Granted, it seems that the author name drops at least once, and often quite a bit more, on every one of the two hundred-plus pages, but for this type of book it works and it was actually kind of fun. Hart either knows her mystery history very will or she's great at faking it. I suspect the former.

The author has written nearly two dozen installments of the Death on Demand series in all. One can't help wondering how things play out twenty books into it but I found this book, the first in the series, to be rather entertaining, for the most part.

The owner of the Death on Demand bookstore is one Annie Laurance Darling, who hosts a weekly Sunday night gathering of mystery writers at the store. That so many popular and successful mystery writers should reside on one remote South Carolina island is a bit much to swallow but we'll chalk that one up to dramatic license. When one of the group claims to have dug up some dirt on each of his authorial colleagues he is bumped off forthwith, in a manner that fans of old-school mysteries will applaud, and more murders are not far behind.

The local Sheriff zeroes in on Darling as the most likely culprit, but she's not having any of that and proceeds to go into amateur detective mode, along with her ex-flame, who has recently turned up again to complicate her life. While I could do without romantic subplots, as a rule, this aspect was toned down to the point that it didn't really interfere with the story much.

Darling is actually no great shakes when it comes to the amateur detection thing and she makes a number of blunders along the way that don't really help her cause. She and ex-flame Max zero in on the other writers in the group and manage to sort it out by the time it's all said and done. In the best tradition of GAD mystery fiction there are plenty of maps, charts and lists to help the reader keep track of it all.

Judging from how many times her name was dropped throughout I'd hazard a guess that Hart's favorite author is Agatha Christie. While I'd never go so far as to use that dirty publisher's trick of calling her a worthy successor to Christie, I'd venture to say that she's come up with a fitting tribute to the old-school style of mystery, as practiced by Christie and others.

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