Mystery author #36: D.R. Meredith

Series detectives: Paleoanthropologist and assistant librarian Megan Clark and her sidekick, history professor Ryan Stevens, aided and abetted by the Murder by the Yard mystery reading group.
Type of investigator: Amateurs
Setting & time: Amarillo, Texas, USA; 21st century

Title: Murder in Volume
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 2000
Type of mystery: Murder

Story: Megan drags Ryan, who happens to be her best friend even though he is old enough to be her father and secretly in love with her (just had to get that in), with her to a meeting to form a mystery reading group, even though Ryan never reads mysteries. A couple of meetings later, a young female member lashes viciously out against the others, belittles everyone and storms out, only to be found after the meeting outside the store with her throat slit. Megan can't miss the opportunity to use her education and examines the body before the police get there, and so gets blood on her clothes, making her a prime suspect in the eyes of the police, who (not unnaturally, considering the circumstances) refuse to allow her to participate in the investigation.
In order to clear her name, Megan decides to investigate the case herself, and Ryan tags along to protect her from harm. In the end, it is the co-operation of the whole reading group that nets the ruthless killer.

Review: As a mystery, this is not an effective story. The killer and motive are blatantly obvious to the reader right from the killer's first appearance. In other respects, I do like it. It was interesting to see the investigation unfolding for the participants, and the characters are well drawn, although Megan does stretch belief a bit. The storytelling device – but I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll write about that in the author review.

Rating: A funny and entertaining whodunnit. 2+ stars.

Title: By Hook or by Book
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 2000
Type of mystery: Murder, theft

Story: Megan, Ryan and the reading group organise a string figure convention, with participants from all over the world. When a participant announces that he has found a long lost manuscript by a famous string figure specialist that he will sell to the highest bidder, the result is chaotic. The next morning he is found dead, and again the police are less than willing to let Megan participate, but she stubbornly starts an investigation of her own, aided by a reluctant Ryan and an enthusiastic reading group.

Review: As someone not that interested in string figures, I could not work up much enthusiasm for the premise of the story, but by looking at it like any other hobby and knowing that people can become obsessed with even the most trivial of subjects, I was able to enjoy it (for another, better example of such obsession, I heartily recommend Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun). The mystery was more mysterious this time around, but I still had the killer figured out around the time of the second murder.

Rating: Still entertaining, but the string figure instructions were really superfluous. 2+ stars.

Title: Murder Past Due
No. in series: 3
Year of publication: 2001
Type of mystery: Old murder

Story: The reading group celebrate their 6 month anniversary by offering a murder tour of Amarillo to the public, complete with re-enactments of real murders. Afterwards, the head of a very old and rich pioneer family approaches them and asks them to find out who murdered his grand-daughter-in-law 20 years ago, just after she returned from her honeymoon, and thereby caused her husband's suicide a year later. After examining the case, they all agree that the murderer has to have been a member of the family, and an interview with the police officer who was in charge of the investigation brings up some disturbing evidence. The police are un-cooperative as usual, but Megan isn't going to let that stop her, only this time she may have bitten off more than she could chew…

Review: This was the best of the three books I read in the series. The murder stories recounted in the book were interesting (all but the last are real) and although to me the way they helped Megan find the murderer was far-fetched, they did not feel too much like filler material.

Rating: The best of the three. 4 stars.

Author review:
All three books have the same storytelling device in common: chapters with alternating points of view. In every other chapter Ryan seems to be writing books in first person about the crimes, and in the other chapters a partially omniscient narrator is telling the story in the third person from Megan’s point of view. Each chapter picks up where the last one left off, so we only get to see part of the story from each viewpoint. Ryan’s chapters inject humour into the stories, and he is wryly self-deprecating in his admittance that he can’t stand the sight of blood, but he also admits that he will do anything to keep Megan safe.

The idea of a relationship between a young woman and the father of her childhood best friend could easily become icky if not handled right, but Meredith manages to avoid that by not letting anything more serious than some mild kissing happen, usually right after something dangerous has happened and the characters are upset and not quite in control of their emotions. Through the three books the relationship develops slowly as Megan starts to become aware that Ryan has feelings for her that are more than just friendly and begins to discover that her feelings towards him are equally ambiguous. This story thread is an interesting hook that the author is using to make the more romantically inclined readers want to continue reading the books in the hope the heroine and hero will finally realise they are meant to be lovers, but like similar hooks in television series, it could be risky to allow it ever to come to a final conclusion, as it would remove some of the tension that drives the stories.

The writing is straightforward and the stories flow well, apart from the interjections of string figure instructions at the beginning of the chapters in the second book that are probably easy for those who like string figures, but to me could just as well have been written in Chinese.

While one of the stories has a suicide ending (I’m not telling which one), it didn’t bother be much, as it was logical for that character to take his own life. What bothered me more was that one of the murder methods in that book was identical to the same in a Robert Barnard novel I reviewed last year. Even that wouldn’t have bothered me at all if the killer hadn’t then committed suicide in an identical fashion to the killer in the Barnard novel. This is probably a coincidence or an unconscious imitation on behalf of the author rather than anything sinister, but it did bother me. However, it not going to stop me from reading more books in this series (and the author’s other mysteries) should I come across them.


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