The Way Life Should Be
by Terry Shaw
I vaguely remember hearing about the First Chapters contest on the Gather website back in 2007. I'm sure I probably read about this book as it advanced through the contest and finally won. But I'd pretty much forgotten about it until I saw this at the Bargain Books on clearance and then just for the irony decided to buy and read it.
I wouldn't be surprised if the author watched a lot of "Murder She Wrote" back in the '80s. The book takes place in the small town of Stone Harbor, Maine, similar to Murder She Wrote that frequently took place in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine. The main detective is John Quinn, an editor and writer for the Stone Harbor Pilot newspaper. Of course in Murder She Wrote the "she" was mystery writer Jessica Fletcher. In both there's also a bumbling sheriff decrying the mystery solver's big city ways, although Alvah Sears is a bit meaner than the Tom Bosley character in "Murder She Wrote."
Like most episodes of Murder She Wrote, we start out with the murder. In the case of this book it's Paul Stanwood. He's at a local park late one night, presumably to check out reports of gay sex going on. Someone beats him to death with a flashlight.
John Quinn comes onto the case as both reporter/editor and Paul's childhood best friend. He bumps heads with Sheriff Sears (sometimes about literally) and other local figures, including his own cousin Seth as he investigates the murder. Quinn faces danger a few times, notably during a hike in the wood where he and his son are shot at by a red herring.
I found most of the book to be underwhelming, probably in large part because I've read a lot of Raymond Chandler in the last few months; now there's someone who knew how to write a real mystery! The writing is pretty amateur in that there's a lot of "head-hopping" in scenes and using adverbs, things that real agents and publishers say are no-nos. The characters are pretty much stock, most probably familiar to "Murder She Wrote" viewers. But I will credit the author in that I did not solve the mystery before it was revealed, so he's got that going for him.
Basically if you like cozy mysteries or "Murder She Wrote" then this is an OK book, but just an OK book. And I have to wonder if this was the best of the 2,600 contest entries how bad the other 2,599 were.
That is all.