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2017 Reading Challenge

Jill Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 150 books.
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Book Review: The Scarlet Coven by David Stuart Davies

“‘I’m for a gin and tonic,’ she said. ‘Can I tempt you?’
‘Indeed you can and I’ll have a gin and tonic as well.'”

You wouldn’t know it from the description as presented, but there are actually two delightful protagonists in this new book from David Stuart Davies (which looks to be the start of a fun new mystery series) – and they are NOT the two characters mentioned. Sure, Sam Finch is, as described, a detective-turned-writer. But his sidekick – and literal partner in crime, is not PI Patrick Murphy, it’s Finch’s wife Laura. Poor Laura doesn’t even make the blurb, but to me, she definitely helped make the story… You see, it’s Laura that turns this into a Nick and Nora Charles-esque mystery – and that was what both drew me in and held me.

There’s darkness afoot in 1930s New York, and without the light antic interplay between Sam and Laura, that darkness might have overwhelmed what turned out to be a very entertaining (and suitably dark) mystery. The book is a hodge-podge – part mystery, part supernatural, part historical fiction. But Sam and Laura’s interactions are what tied a lot of it together for me.There were a few times when the attempt to paint them as Nick and Nora Charles (if you missed the reference, it’s to a couple of Dashiell Hammett short stories – most notably The Thin Man – and the William Powell/Myrna Loy series of Thin Man movies that spun out of them) felt overblown. True, Nick Charles is well known for his fondness for cocktails. True, Nora Charles is well known for inadvertently saving the day through a blend of silliness and savvy. But even Nick and Nora don’t constantly talk about cocktails and find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“‘I didn’t see you in the foyer.’
‘You weren’t meant to. No use being covert if one is seen.'”

There were rather more mentions of Gibsons and Manhattans here than the story called for, strictly speaking, and they occasionally felt forced, but overall the nod at Nick and Nora was what made this one really sing for me. Patrick Murphy is a fine character, but he lacks the depth and complexity to be a major player. I’m optimistic that he will reappear and become a more defined presence – he’s almost a bit of an afterthought in this story, even though he does (literally) save Sam’s bacon more than once. And the addition of supernatural evil to a period mystery was an uncommon touch, but at times it felt forced and implacably malevolent – right up until the forces of evil are banished in a paragraph. A little tidy, but still fun – thanks to snappy bits of dialogue sprinkled throughout. I do hope there are more Sam and Laura adventures – there is a lot of ground open to cover, given how the book’s particular version of New York is established, and I think that there’s a lot of potential in these characters.

My review copy was provided by NetGalley.

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