Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review: Red Julie (An Olivia Miller Mystery Book 2) by J.A. Whiting

An Unusual Mix of Syrup and Gore

J.A. Whiting, the author of Red Julie (An Olivia Miller Mystery Book 2), has written books for at least four other series.  All of these other series have ‘cozy mystery’ in the title.  This series doesn’t.  And while the change in title might imply a clean break from the style and characters of a cozy, the book doesn’t quite achieve it.  It still has the syrup typical of the genre, e.g., “Olivia nodded as she slathered the jam on her scone and took a chomp out of it. She laughed and wiped her mouth with her napkin. 'Yum,' she managed.”  I’m not sure eating a scone is worth a chuckle in any other genre.  But it also has gore that no cozy would condone, with gruesome deaths, torture, and mutilation.  Yeah, no kidding.  I’m not saying the mixture is bad, but it’s…unusual.

The characters of Red Julie are quite likeable, although perhaps a bit stereotypic…or maybe, cozy-typic.  The men are sensitive, thoughtful, and for some reason, always want to cook something for Olivia to eat.  Olivia is smart and spunky.  But there are inconsistencies as well.  For example, at one point, Olivia is going to impersonate a police officer to get information.  Even if she isn’t in law school yet, she should know better.

The pacing is somewhat inconsistent, being fast during the scenes of violence, but not so much in the other three-quarters of the book.  Part of the reason is the repetition of clues.  The mumbled phrases, discovered papers, and overheard rumors that create uncertainty about the culprits are repeated a lot.  Also, the transition from action back to speculation disrupts the flow a bit.  After a high-speed chase in heavy traffic, including an escape that involved a last-minute, cut-across-lanes to a rest area ploy, the story nearly stops when Olivia passes it off as nothing, wondering if “…she misperceived that the car was following her.”  That’s a head scratcher of the type the author probably didn’t intend.

And finally, there’s the question that’s common to a lot of amateur sleuth novels:  why is this untrained, ill-prepared amateur is investigating rather than the authorities?  The answer – because the police won’t – seems a bit unbelievable after the brutal killing of a very well-to-do individual.  But its fiction, after all.

Overall, much of Red Julie reads like the too-good-to-be-true characters and dialog of a cozy.  Just don’t get too comfortable with it, because you never know when and how the next person will die.

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