Murder at Bridge – Anne Austin

This was part of an anthology (Afternoon Tea Mysteries, a compilation of cozies – hey, it was 99 cents), and … meh. A murder occurs in the middle of a bridge game (the victim being the dummy, who stepped away, and really? People are fine with being called the dummy?), and as it turns out bridge – an integral part of the story which takes up a decent chunk of the book – is, to the uninitiated, every single bit as incomprehensible as The Nine Tailors’ bell-ringing. It made Fizzbin seem a lot more reasonable. Seriously, who came up with this game? Were they drunk? Is the rulebook longer or slightly shorter than a Merriam Webster dictionary? Is there a bridge-English English-bridge dictionary I can borrow if this ever happens again?

So, there was that. Something else I found incomprehensible was that the main character, young detective Bonnie Dundee, seems for the entire book to actually have been christened Bonnie Dundee. I went back to the beginning twice to see if a real name was given, and it was not. Another review mentions that “James” is revealed at the very end, but I must have missed it; I’ll have to go look. A big deal? Nope. A silly and distracting thing to have to put up with the whole book? Yup.

(On the subject of names, this book features one of the tiny handful of characters with my name, spelled as I spell it (you know, correctly). And it’s a man. And … er, spoiler…  Between him and Tracey on Firefly, I may develop a complex.)

Part of the mystery aspect of the book was pretty good – a wide range of suspects, evasive testimony, clever detective work: all to the good. But the clever detective work is down to the fact that the cops are, in the grand tradition of Poirot and Holmes, dumb as a box of rocks, so of course a smart and dogged detective is going to shine. And it seemed as though the clever detective subscribes to the Richard Castle school of mystery solving: That guy is too obviously guilty, he can’t really be guilty. Also, more importantly, there is one person on the scene of the first killing who is never even slightly considered a suspect by Dundee, even though she is the one who feeds him the bulk of his information. Why isn’t she part of the suspect list? Because Dundee has a crush on her. I wanted so badly for him to come up against some ugly evidence and maybe end up with her holding him at gunpoint telling him explicitly how easy he’d been to manipulate … alas.

The part of the mystery that was not good was … well, the solution. It was absurdly complex, Rube Goldberg-esque, without enough of an explanation to make it work.There are spoilers between the images.

The gun was fired for the first killing by a string running from a bell (the type to summon a servant, sort of) to a magnet on the gun … but … how was the trigger pulled? I may have blacked out while reading that part, but to the best of my knowledge the trigger wasn’t even mentioned in the explanation. The second time was a string to the trigger and the recoil closed the door it was hidden in. Or something. It made little sense.

The writing was serviceable, the characters were a bit better than stock, and it kept my attention. However, the writing also was more of a reflection of its time than of its (female) author, with a strong air of “there, there, little lady, now don’t you have a husband to look after”. Strangely, though, in terms of setting, there was a fair amount of drinking going on, although Prohibition had a couple more years to go. There was one mention of a speakeasy, but everyone had liquor in their homes and thought nothing of it. Overall, it was as though the writer reached into a hat and pulled out a slip of paper that said “game of bridge” and “(insert weird means of murder here)” and put them together.

And, seriously – Bonnie?

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