Book: Dare to Die
Author: Carolyn Hart
Summary (from flap of William Morrow edition): She came in the rain. Alone. On a bicycle. Annie and Max Darling are completely unprepared when the arrival of a mysterious young woman shocks their sea island and stirs up more than just gossip. It turns out that Iris, the beautiful stranger, is a former resident of Broward’s Rock. Her arrival throws the normally happy town into a downward spiral that pits neighbor against neighbor. Things take a turn for the worse when Annie befriends Iris and invites her to attend the Darlings’ party at the pavilion where Death is the uninvited guest. Suddenly, Max and Annie find themselves in the middle of a fight they don’t understand and at the mercy of an unknown assailant who’s trying to kill them-and all they is that it is one of their friends.-William Morrow, 2009.
Mysteries, like all genres, have their own respective problems. These same problems can apply to their authors. One of the problems with murder mystery writers is that once they create their own world, most of their mysteries will take place in it. Now, that's not any sign of laziness or lack of creativity on the part of the author. It just means that whoever picks up a book whose setting takes place in that particular universe is doomed to either love the series and buy the rest or fail to make that magical connection with the universe and the people who live in it. For this book, I was part of the latter category.
My problems with this book are few, but important. Not all murder mysteries are created equal, just like anything in life. Hart writes well. There's no question about that. My problem lies with her characters and her plot.
This particular book takes place in the middle of her series. It's not the beginning and it's certainly not the end. So, as soon as I figured that out, I knew I was doomed to not know everything about the main characters. Annie and Max Darling are cute in their own respective ways, but I don't know their history. To know their history, I assume I'd have to pick up earlier books in the series. There's mention of Max being wrongly framed for a murder (which, I assume, takes place in an earlier book) and there's a mention of Annie almost being murdered herself (again, I assume is detailed in another book). These details aren't crucial, but Hart spends a lot of time talking about feelings and past events that have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual mystery.
Speaking of the actual mystery, I'll be perfectly honest. I was not impressed, nor riveted. I was seriously tempted to put the book down and never read it again while I was still in chapter one. Hart opens the book by having brief paragraphs introduce us to the main players in the book. Now, looking back on the fact that this mystery is part of a universal series, I appreciate that Hart did that. Otherwise, I would've been left grasping for straws on who's who and everything that has to do with them. But, when I first read that chapter, I immediately became disengaged and remained so for the rest of the book. I really only finished it because I was determined to say I read every book that's waiting for me in my pile. I also wanted to have a bit of difference here on this blog since it really doesn't do me much good if I only review books I liked on here. This book was the first one I didn't like. As always, this review will be as spoiler free as possible.
The pacing was bad for one thing. The introduction was shoddy at best and the middle ground was a mess of redundant or unnecessary details combined with few actual facts. The end is typical of a murder mystery, but completely unsatisfying. I just kept shaking my head going, "When is a real clue actually going to show up? Where's the sense of danger? Why do I know so much more about Annie's hatred of her mother(s?)-in-law than about the actual mystery?" More time was spent on the in-between stages than on the murder. The premise of the story is that a mysterious girl shows up to the island. Hart completely obliterates that hook with the opening chapter. She's not exactly mysterious when the reader knows exactly who she is and what her past is before the main characters even know. Most of the story is told through the eyes of Annie and Max Darling, which, successfully, keeps readers out of the thoughts of the suspects and the actual murderer. The problem with that is that readers are stuck in the minds of this couple. Annie appears to interested in solving real life mysteries (she owns a mystery book bookstore in which we find out much more about the bookstore than, again, the real life mystery), but she doesn't appear to be very proactive in trying to snoop. Nancy Drew makes a better crime solver than Annie Darling and Nancy's a teenager! Even when Nancy is told to butt out of a case, she eventually snoops around anyway. Annie is told to keep out and, like a good citizen and wife, she actually does so! I was totally ready for Annie to break the rules and snoop around. Instead, she focuses on a memory poster for the murdered person and battling (internally) the take over of her shop by her mother(s?)-in-law. Her husband, Max, while taking the natural position of protective husband and (maybe) sleuth in crime, focuses his thoughts more on the house he and Annie are going to live in (a subplot that isn't really a subplot when the story keeps coming back to it every single chapter. I became concerned once I realized that I was more interested in finding out when their house would be finished rather than finding out who the murderer was), how life is short, and how much he loves Annie. All three trains of thought are okay, but not when the focus of the story is supposed to be a murder.
Another thing that interested me was that Hart spends a good chunk of writing space listing off other, real life mystery books - this part usually happens when Annie is in her bookstore or thinking about her bookstore. Hart lists at least five or six other actual novels (I went on Google) whenever the topic of the bookstore comes up. Either she's promoting other authors, trying to make up for something, or a mixture of both. If she was trying to steer me towards other novels to get interested in, she certainly did her job. In doing so, she made me want to read those books rather than continue her own.
As far as the mystery itself, I was really frustrated by it (just like everything else in this novel). Because the murder concerns people who are island natives and also happen to be Annie and Max's friends, there is little to no interrogation. Everyone knows the little town/island native problem. That problem being that close knit communities where everyone knows everyone (such as in a small, isolated town or an island) are less than likely to communicate or cooperate because they're afraid someone will find out that he/she squealed. Hart doesn't indulge with the one island/small town gossip queen character. Everyone clams up (island humor) and there's so little plot development that Hart has no choice but to immerse readers in the above mentioned topics of the last paragraph.
I chose to read this book next in my pile because one; it was short and two; I usually get through murder mysteries (or any type of mystery really) pretty quickly. I wasn't expecting to dislike this book at all. I wish I could say that there was at least one thing I like about the book, but I'm afraid I have nothing to offer. My advice to anyone would to read earlier books in this universe, rather than pick up this one first.
All in all, my problems were that this was promoted as a mystery when the focus wasn't really on the mystery, the characters were bland/uninteresting, and the pacing was too slow.
I give Dare to Die a C+
Please either support the author by buying the book or borrowing it from your local library.