By Paul Wornham
If you're looking for promotional deals on mystery fiction ebooks, try Omnimystery News, where they typically alert their readers to several Free MystereBooks every day. At the low, low price of absolutely nothing I don't often see much that grabs me, but as I wade through the towering heaps of thrillers and pseudo chick-lit I occasionally run across something that looks interesting. Sometimes I even find a title that I actually read and once in a while there's one that I read all the way through.
Like Paul Wornham's The Philanthropist's Danse, which I found to be quite a page-turner. Wornham is apparently a first-time novelist and it looks like the book is self-published. Which is too bad, in a way, because it might never get the readership that it deserves.
I wouldn't call this one a traditional mystery, but it does use one of those tried and true conventions of that breed - the gathering of friends, relatives and staff following the death of some rich old coot. The switcheroo here is that said coot has decreed that this group be summoned to his mansion and given the task of splitting up his estate amongst themselves. With the catch that each time the clock strikes midnight without the group having completing their task another twenty percent of the estate is shunted off to charity.
Which is not a bad foundation to build a novel around, if you ask me, but like any great premise it won't mean much if the author drops the ball when it comes to execution. Which, for my money, Wornham definitely didn't do. This is a rather static novel, in large part, with the dozen concerned parties spending a fair amount of time in a conference room talking things out, with the attorney who's orchestrating the whole affair on behalf of his late client on hand to keep an eye on things. And yet Wornham still does a great job of moving the story forward and keeping things exciting.
Wornham's characters are fairly diverse and rather well sketched and he does a great job of portraying the wheeling and dealing that's inevitable when a group that's composed mostly of very greedy people get together and duke it out to see who's going to get what share of a substantial fortune. Wornham didn't really hit a false note here, as far as I'm concerned, except perhaps to some small extent with the ending. I'm not going to really elaborate on that except to say that the slight misstep here didn't cancel out the strengths of what came before.
While this was not really a traditional mystery and perhaps not even a mystery at all, whatever that means, there were some mysterious elements present throughout and I'd highly recommend the book regardless of what genre it might or might not belong to.