Bloodstains with Bronte – Katherine Bolger Hyde

When I decided to read this, I seemed to have been doing better with Netgalley books. I hadn’t read a real failure in some time. No one- or two-star books in months.

Oh well – it couldn’t last.

Now, this book was not the worst thing I’ve ever read. It was coherent, as far as it went, adequately well-written in terms of sentence structure and use of apostrophes and so on. There was an overdependence on somewhat labored simile, but it wasn’t the worst I’ve seen. There were a few echoes – like more than one phone ringing just as someone went to pick it up. But it was the plot failed for me, and there was something under it all that just grated on me.

The setting for this book, and its series, is a mansion inherited by the heroine, which she is turning into a high-toned writers’ retreat with a literary theme. (Which didn’t make a lot of sense, financially… A literary-themed B&B would be fun – I’d go. I mean, the main character’s money won’t last forever, especially at the rate she’s blowing through it.) The author and heroine got brownie points for deciding to make one of the rooms the Montgomery room, apparently after Lucy Maud Montgomery. The only negative I can possibly lay on that is that LMM is a somewhat odd bedfellow (so to speak) for the other authors chosen: Forster, Austen, Montgomery, Dostoevsky, Dickens, and of course Brontë. (Also, I can’t quite stomach the idea of a murder centered around Lucy Maud. Which seems to be the author’s eventual plan, based on the title conceit.)

The idea of a book-lover with almost unlimited funds creating rooms to evoke her favorite authors was kind of wonderful – something I’d love to be able to do. But that’s not remotely a central part of the plot, and most of the planning and purchasing and decorating happens “off-screen”. In fact, quite a lot of it seems to be delegated to the local vendors. This deprived me of a lot of vicarious pleasure.

Part of my disconnect with the book was probably the shadow of the first book lingering in this one. By which I mean that I didn’t read that book, and references to things covered in it were meaningless. Who is this Philip in Portland? Is he dead and really a ghost, or was “ghost” another one of those labored metaphors? The events of that first book were pretty momentous for Emily, and didn’t quite get enough attention in this one – or at least not early enough to make this a true standalone.

Something I grumbled about was the way that the identity of the murder victim was telegraphed from almost the very beginning of the book, to the point that I thought it was surely a misdirect and that someone else would come a cropper. But no, the person I expected to die was knocked off just as expected – so then I figured the solution was going to be either equally telegraphed or wildly out of the blue. (Mild spoiler: it was the latter, but not for good reasons.)

Of course, the victim would never have become the victim if one other character didn’t behave a little bizarrely.

– “‘Don’t let him out of your sight,’ she whispered to Luke …”

“Luke was in the back bedroom looking for Jake when he heard the scream.”
– – Great job, Luke.

Something else that didn’t sit well: a few cliché characters, like the drama teacher. Especially the drama teacher. That characterization managed to be offensive. And unless I’ve gotten my secondary characters mixed up, she was named Cordelia Fitzgerald – which cancels out the brownie points for the Montgomery Room. Oh! And the ME! “Medical examiner was a part-time job around here and a murder victim a welcome diversion.” Really, And how did you greet the victim’s family? “Yay, a murder! I was so bored! Your son did me a solid by getting himself killed!”

I was just annoyed by the heroine’s semi-not-quite-is-it-or-isn’t-it relationship. “For a minute she wished she and Luke were sleeping together so she could deny him her bed as punishment…” – That actually made me mad. And the weird fight that they get into – or rather, that Emily gets them into – baffled me. I was going to mark it as a spoiler, but it’s in the book description:

“Listen, this is up to you, but I’d strongly recommend you get a professional crime-scene cleanup team in here. We can’t have Katie cleaning that stairwell.”
“Because she’s a suspect?” Emily was shocked at the waspish way that came out.
Luke started and widened his eyes at her. “Because she’s been traumatized.” Then his eyes dropped. “Well, yeah, and because she’s a suspect, too. At least until she remembers what happened.”

Why was this a fight? Would Emily really make this girl – who, yes, has been traumatized – mop up the large pool of blood that came from the man who died at her feet, and if that’s not enough, the man who previously raped her? And why is she so utterly outraged that a girl found standing over the body of a man, holding the murder weapon (because of course she picked it up and stood there clutching it) is kept in the suspect pool immediately after the murder? …”But she would not kiss a man who thought her Katie capable of murder.” What that should be is “Luke would not kiss a woman who was such an idiot, and at any rate it would be conflict of interest to hang out with her until Katie was cleared…”

Luke, the local sheriff and Emily’s maybe-sorta-boyfriend, is frankly crap at his job. Not only does he blow it at the very moment of the murder (you had one job, man), he lets Emily run roughshod over him in a way that even most other cozy mystery cops wouldn’t allow. Emily talks to a witness and gets her to admit something, then calls him – and then lets said witness go off to work before Luke gets there. Overall I was singularly unimpressed with his sheriffing.

I was taken aback toward the end when Katie, who is boarding with Emily, makes a major decision without saying anything to the woman who, though a friend, is also her employer and owner of the house. Spoiler: Her new love: “No problem. I can move in here.” Really. Theirs is a kind of odd relationship, Katie and Emily’s, half servant/master and half daughter/mother. Emily thinks nothing of having Katie go and fetch her tea – although then she might have Katie sit and share it with her. And then Katie can wash the dishes. Katie is allowed to decorate her rooms any way she likes – but the impression I was left with was of Emily in splendor in the best of all the bedrooms with no expense spared in décor and furniture, while Katie and her child occupy basically cramped servants’ quarters furnished from the Salvation Army.

Finally, though there is a gay couple featured in the story, who are written pretty well and (almost surprisingly) pretty free of cliché, and though Emily and the rest of the main characters fight against (or at least frown at) the bigotry they experience … still, there came this bit:

“She herself was not a hundred percent comfortable with having a gay couple as tenants, but whatever her private feelings about their lifestyle might be, they had a right to live unmolested like anyone else. But where her own faith taught love for all sinners—including herself—she knew there were others who twisted the same scriptures to teach only judgment.”

Huh.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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