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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Pillow Stalk (Mad for Mod Mysteries #1)

Pillow Stalk - Diane Vallere

I requested this as an ARC from NetGalley based on the strength of a short story Diane Vallere wrote in Other People's Baggage and the description of the book itself.


It's not a bad read, but it does suffer from two things I found problematic.  Both are things I think are probably one-offs and I don't expect to see either one in future books.


First things first:  Madeline Knight is the owner of an interior decorating firm called Mad for Mod and specialises in 1950's era decorating using as many original pieces as possible.  There's a lot of vintage information thrown into the narrative as she immerses herself business, home and wardrobe in the era she loves.  Doris Day is her inspiration in her private life.  But don't make the mistake that her love of the era means she's a pushover or a happy-suzy-homemaker, as she most assuredly has feminist leanings.


This is where we come to my first speed bump :  A bad breakup has left her with what I can only describe as a chip on her shoulder.  The bad breakup involved an accident that left her with a badly damaged knee and her feminist, independent leanings means she won't let anyone know her knee is damaged and she won't allow any one who does know to help her.  Her need to be independent felt overly strong to me and ventured into prideful and almost bitterness.  I like my heroines independent, but I don't like them bitter.  There is, however, enough character development towards the end that I expect Mad Night to be in a better place emotionally, if not physically, in the next book.


Also, throughout most of the book I couldn't figure out why, when her knee was so bad, she didn't use a cane and I can only guess it's the pride thing.  I didn't think any more highly of her because she abused herself by not taking care of her knee.  Quite the opposite.  She's adamant she takes care of herself, but doesn't take care of her physical health.

(show spoiler)


There are two main men in her life.  Both have their secrets and both are pivotal to the plot of this mystery.  I'll not say more because it could be considered spoiler-ish.  I don't know if this is going to turn into a love triangle or not, but I hope not.  I rather like both of them and I don't fancy the idea of watching Mad play monkey in the middle for several books.  At this point it could go either way (and I believe the author's bringing the ex back for the next book too - party!).


The mystery plot was well plotted.  Murders old and new, of women who all resembled Doris Day.  It was a bit convoluted and in the end the bad guy's motivation was a bit 'out there' but it worked for me and I liked seeing where she took the story.


My last problem with the book was more about the construction of the story, for lack of a better way to put it.  The writing was excellent and it's because the writing was so well done that I think this was more an editing issue than a lack of writing talent.  See, there were inconsistencies in the story and they all felt like orphans.  Imagine the editor decides to tighten up the story by removing parts that either don't work or feel extraneous.  Or perhaps the author decides to make small adjustments to events in the timeline.  Only those removed/tweaked parts are referenced later in the text and it isn't caught, causing inconsistencies.  Examples:


In one scene Hudson (her handyman/carpenter/friend) says "Remember I told you I saw someone hanging around my house?", but he never did say that - at least not in the narrative and it seems pretty important.  


Another, slightly different example involves an argument with the investigating police officer, Tex, on the morning of the second murder.  The scene is pretty clearly set to be late morning, and she goes on after the argument to work a full afternoon: "hours had passed since I left Tex at the [theater], and the day had turned to dusk."  She then ends up at Hudson's house where a LOT of drama ensues, none of which involves Tex.  The next morning she's awoken by Tex pounding on her door.  When he sees her he asks "What happened to you?" so we know he's unaware of the previous nights events.  When she asks why he's there, he replies with "I don't like how things ended last night.".   Now, normally this probably wouldn't stand out so badly, but the author does an excellent job of writing a clear, descriptive timeline of events, so this not only stood out, it confused me to no end.


Those were two that stuck out enough for me to remember, but there were other, smaller errors of the same type; they didn't make the story un-readable, but they did make me question my reading comprehension skills at first.  I'm confident this is not a sign of things to come; I have yet to read a Henery Press book that wasn't amongst the best edited books I read.  But I do mention it and deducted a star for it because it did effect the readability of the story itself; I found myself pulled out of the story, or having to go back and re-read sections to make sure I didn't miss something.


Overall, I believe this is a good start to a series; it could have been stronger, but I've definitely read a whole lot of first books that were a whole lot worse.  Ms. Vallere has all the elements in place for a strong series moving forward and I look forward to the second book with complete confidence that it will be an excellent read.


(This book was provided as an ARC via NetGalley in return for an honest review.)