Raymond Benson is a Chicago-based Renaissance man. He is the author of more than 40 books, including thrillers, suspense, and several titles in the continuation of the James Bond franchise. His The James Bond Bedside Companion (Dodd, Mead, 1984) was shortlisted for an Edgar. Dark Side of the Morgue (Leisure Books, 2009) was nominated for a Shamus Award. In addition, he’s a computer game designer, a music composer, and a college lecturer in film.
His latest book The Mad, Mad Murders of Marigold Way (Beaufort Books, October 2022) is an interesting, if somewhat annoying, experiment in novel structure. Told chronologically day by day, it describes the events of a week or so in May 2020 in a northern suburb of Chicago. Scott Hatcher, a former television writer and now a struggling novelist, along with everyone else in that first spring of COVID, is anxious and isolated and apprehensive. He awakens one spring day to find his wife gone. They hadn’t been getting along especially well, so he assumes she’s off for a long walk. Or something. Finally, after he checks with her friends who haven’t seen her and he finds her purse and billfold in the kitchen, he calls the police to report her missing.
The police ask how well his wife knows the Bergmans across the street. It seems Rachel Bergman reported her husband missing that day. The police believe that the two have eloped. Until their bodies are found in an empty house along with cases of the personal protective equipment that was in such short supply in 2020.
The plot itself is original and the characters are striking in their realism. The neighborhood teenage troublemaker, the weird loner, the perennial gardener, and the busybody neighbor. Hatcher is likable if naïve; I found myself hoping he would work through the chaos of the murders and the pandemic. Those early days of the virus when we had no idea of what we were dealing with are re-created in painful detail.
What makes the story offbeat is the unseen and unidentified omniscient narrator who says he is similar to the Stage Manager in the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. This narrator inserts himself into the story and editorializes liberally. When the police arrive at a resolution of the murders, the narrator steps in to relate to the reader a few scenes that were omitted in the original telling. This “oh and another thing” follow-up is bothersome even if it does provide key information.
I liked the story line, the setting, and the characters, and I really disliked the structure. Reviews on Goodreads and Amazon are mixed. Starred review from Publishers Weekly.
· Publisher: Beaufort Books (October 4, 2022)
· Language: English
· Hardcover: 350 pages
· ISBN-10: 0825309913
Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2022
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.
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