By Charlie Donlea
It’s summertime and Charlie Donlea has written a debut mystery thriller perfect for the plane, the beach, and the mountain cabin (though you might want to keep the door locked at all times, unlike victim Becca Eckersley.)
Briefly, said Becca, a law student, retreats to her parents’ vacation stilt house in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to study for a big L1 test. Then a knock at the door disturbs her. She answers it, allows the person into the house, and in a few minutes meets her end in a brutal assault.
How did she arrive in the cabin and who is the killer? Donlea lays out the backstory in detail: her undergraduate years at George Washington University, her friends and her relationship with them, her parents, their parents, everything you’ll need to deduce the killer.
You’ll be deducing alongside Kelsey Castle. Kelsey has recently suffered an assault herself from which she’s slowly recovering. Her editor sends her on this assignment, thinking time in the mountains and in the beautiful community of Summit Lake will aid her recovery by easing her back into the work she loves. However, due to the similarities of her assault and Becca’s fatal encounter, she becomes obsessed with solving the case, especially when she learns there’s a cover up in the works. To describe Kelsey as a bulldog is to understate her drive and diligence.
For a first effort, Donlea does a good job of hooking the reader and moving the entire enterprise along at a steady, and sometimes frenetic, pace. He has a good grasp of law school, leading you to guess he might have gone the law route himself and decided, eh, I prefer writing. He knows the genre well, thus simple sentences, short chapters, and compelling events and twists well spaced. These features will satisfy most readers, all but those who prefer the more complex characterizations and plotting offered by the best in this genre.
Unfortunately, the book contains a number of flaws. Among them, most readers will have a prime suspect nearly from the get-go. Donlea tries to throw her off the scent by getting cagey with information. Some may regard this as a typical tool of the mystery trade, while others might believe they’ve been deceived by a bit of trickery. Let’s just say, you’ll know it when you see it and can decide for yourself. Then there’s the question of why so much secrecy about the murder. Is the reason plausible? Again, something else for the reader to decide for her- or himself.
Nonetheless, for a first mystery, it grabs and holds your interest and serves as a mostly absorbing diversion. And that’s better than most can say. w/c