Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Book Review: Murder Creek by Jane Suen

Entertaining Mystery Novella with Something of a Paranormal Feel

Have you ever driven by some land feature with an unusual name—dead horse creek, lost miner’s canyon—and wondered what had happened there? The hero of Murder Creek, journalism student Eve Sawyer did when she drove over the bridge at Murder Creek. But for Eve, her reaction doesn’t stop with curiosity. Soon, she’s having nightmares about the gold miners brutally murdered on the creek’s banks in the 1800s. And sometimes, she isn’t even asleep—she’s just having coffee at her favorite diner. But while there is a bit of a supernatural feel to parts of the story, Eve’s investigation into the case of a girl gone missing from that location twenty years earlier taps more into her persistence and her ability to read people than the supernatural. In fact, all she learned about the girl from her visions was that she might not be dead. Why did she think that? Because the girl wasn’t among the dead men she saw wandering the banks of the creek.

If that sounds like an entertaining blend of amateur detective work and the paranormal, I’d agree. Eve tackles the mystery with the straightforward zeal of youth, opening many of her interviews with, “I need to know whatever you can tell me about her” or the like. And while I expected that to end in phone hang-ups and slammed doors in most cases, she got people talking. And slowly, she uncovers facts that even the horde of crime reporters failed to find twenty years earlier.

There were a few, minor stretches in plausibility that were not related to the supernatural. For example, in one case, Eve is checking twenty-year-old records after their owner said they kept them for seven. And she finds a pivotal clue, one that could easily have been destroyed any time in the last twenty years. Several of the emotional reactions seemed a bit strained as well. Take the reaction of a character that she accused of knowing the girl’s murderer:  “‘Oh no, no.’ He cried out, shoulders trembling. ‘Please don’t.’” For a man who has been hiding the truth for years, his total meltdown after a couple of questions from a student fifteen to twenty years his junior felt strained. Another quick developmental edit would have helped the story. But the primary limitation of the book is its lack of tension. Eve did receive one threatening phone call, but for most of the book, she’s taking rides with men to lonely locales, having lunch at their home, meeting them at night, and so on. Often, it sounded like she was on a date, not tracking a vile criminal. And while Eve’s ESP, or whatever she has, might have told her it was OK, it’s difficult to feel tension when the hero doesn’t show much.

Overall, Murder Creek is a fun, fast read with a plucky, persistent hero who may (or may not) have some connection to the paranormal. All it needs to be a great story is a bit more realistic tension.

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