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Bibliophile reviews Sick of Shadows (mystery) by Sharyn McCrumb

Series detective: Elizabeth MacPherson (here aided by brother Bill)
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1984
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateurs, police
Setting & time: Georgia, USA, 1980's
Number of murders: 1 (2)
Some themes: Insanity, eccentricity, alcoholism

Story: Elizabeth MacPherson, recently graduated from college and searching for a future career, is invited to act as bridesmaid to her cousin Eileen. The first thing Elizabeth notices when she arrives at the family mansion to take up her role in the wedding party is a replica of Neuschwanstein castle on the lawn, built on a smaller scale than the original but still big enough to live in. This is the home of her cousin Alban and a taste of things to come. Her other cousins, Geoffrey and Charles, make Alban look only slightly eccentric by comparison and Eileen is on the mend after a long stay in a psychiatric hospital and is nervous and insecure, which is no surprise to Elizabeth once she meets the girl's mother. The wedding preparations are disrupted when a murder is committed and the police begin an investigation. With the help of her brother Bill, Elizabeth finds clues that may just help prevent another murder, but will she be in time?

Review: This is the first book in a series about Elizabeth MacPherson and like some of the other books by McCrumb I have reviewed, it has a weak mystery. The story is very much character driven and is really more about people and their interactions with each other and the results of those interactions than it is about the murder, which has an obvious solution. Although the story is billed as the first Elizabeth MacPherson mystery and we would therefore expect her to be the sleuth, she is not the one who does the detecting in the book. In the end, it is a message from her brother Bill, who has figured everything out through her letters and a phone call (he is not present during much of the story) that breaks the case open.
McCrumb writes with wry humour about the eccentricities of the family, thus creating a good contrast with the pathetic, tragic figure of Eileen, who is the one person in the story who obviously has a real mental problem. (I say “obviously” because there is someone else who is insane, but it doesn't become obvious until the final pages). All of this makes for a darkly humorous southern gothic story, which, while neither a good mystery nor as funny as some of McCrumb's other books, is a good introduction to Elizabeth MacPherson and her family that will come in handy when reading future books in the series.

Rating: A southern gothic tale of murder among eccentrics, and the beginning of a successful mystery series. 2+ stars.

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