The Read List: Death at Breakfast, by Beth Gutcheon

deathatbreakfastI hate to say this, but Death at Breakfast just didn’t work for me. When TLC Book Tours sent me their list of upcoming books going on tour, I read the synopsis for this book and loved the sound of the two main protagonists:

Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.

Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.

But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.

Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.

Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.

Don’t Maggie and Hope sound just lovely? I think the mystery world is really really ready for a pair of middle aged sleuths like them. So as I settled in to read, I was all set to cheer for Maggie and Hope, and ride along as they set out on their first mysterious adventure. Only … it didn’t turn out that way, because I didn’t really get a chance to get a sense of who Maggie and Hope are.

Unfortunately, it takes a good long while before the murder in this murder mystery actually happens, and in the scenes leading up to it, we get into Maggie’s or Hope’s POV just a few times. Now, the murder itself doesn’t have to happen quickly in order for a murder mystery to be good; Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries come to mind as an example of long build-ups to the murders themselves that work well. But George is also a master of characterization, and good characterization is something I found Death at Breakfast lacked.

A lot of the scenes in the book are scattered among an astonishing number of secondary characters. At first I’d start reading a new scene, be confused about who this particular character was, flip back to find out, then start back on the scene again. After a while, though, I got tired of doing that, so I just kept plodding on, on the assumption that sooner or later it would dawn on me who this person was. But having to do that just doesn’t add up to very enjoyable reading for me.

The writing itself is fine, with a nice turn of phrase here and there. But without solidly fleshed out characters and a better developed plot, I wasn’t really drawn into the story itself. It’s a little bizarre, but I found the character I liked best, in that I was intrigued by her and actually wanted to learn more about her, was Artemis, a celebrity pop star who never physically shows up in the book.

When I finished reading, I headed over to Amazon and Goodreads to see some of its reviews; I like to do this when a book doesn’t work for me because there’s always the chance I missed something that could have made a difference. But after reading through the reviews, it occurred to me that Death at Breakfast would probably be enjoyed by the reader of general fiction, but perhaps not so much by mystery aficionados.

And on a side note, it was interesting to see one reviewer had actually counted the number of secondary characters who make an appearance in the book: there were twenty-three of them! That’s a lot of secondary characters, and with several of them getting their own scenes in the book, it was all too confusing and unwieldy for me.

Depending on your reading tastes, your mileage with this one may be different, though.

 

5 thoughts on “The Read List: Death at Breakfast, by Beth Gutcheon

  1. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library

    That’s too bad this didn’t work for you. 23 is a ridiculous number of side characters! Think of all the work that the author had to go through naming them all. I like a good thriller but this definitely sounds a little flat and with this kind of book I like feeling like I’m pulled into the world of the book. Hope your next read is better!

    Reply
  2. Tasha B (heidenkind)

    This isn’t a book, but have you ever seen the TV series Rosemary &Thyme? It sounds similar to this, except the two friends own a gardening business together! It’s really fun and a proper mystery series.

    Reply

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