Author: Leslie Caine
Publication Data: First paper, Dell, 2007, ISBN 9780440335986. Originally published in hardcover, heaven knows why.
About this book:
I don’t often pick up mysteries written after 1950 these days — and this is why. Killed By Clutter is an example of what passes for mystery writing these days for the “cozy” market. I don’t often bother reviewing books like this (frankly, I don’t often bother picking them up, let alone finishing them). I admit that this book is not written for me; it is designed to appeal to a middle-aged woman with, apparently, limited reading skills and a poor memory for facts and characters. I am none of those things. I should be kind, and leave these books to people by whom they are designed to be appreciated.
But honestly, this is just atrocious.
An elderly woman has a house stuffed full of crap and her relatives hire an interior decorator, the protagonist, to come in and clean up. Don’t bother asking why they hire an interior decorator; the plot requires it, and it is merely the first of a series of ridiculous coincidences that will stretch the reader’s credibility further than a bungee cord. The premise of this series is that the protagonist solves mysteries while dispensing advice and information about interior decorating. The author knows so little about interior decorating that she thinks a shoji screen comes from China, and one of the rooms she describes as being a triumph actually made me wonder if she was colour-blind or just picking interesting colour names out of a swatch book at random. If I had to live in that room, I think I’d tear out my eyes with a fork.
The minute anything happens, all the other characters pop in like someone rang a Pavlovian bell, just so they’ll be on hand and able to act guilty. (If I had anyone living near me who behaved like the murderer, she would be the subject of a serious restraining order and five-to-ten for burglary and grand theft before the action of the book begins.) People lie and steal, in ways and for reasons that make no sense except to confuse the plot, at the drop of a hand-knitted hat. The police act like they cannot be bothered to solve two murders and avoid every sensible detective activity — they just about make the people who should be the principal suspects a cheering cup of cocoa but they don’t do anything sordid like actually question them impolitely. It’s like they’re hanging around waiting to be told whom to arrest. There is a “Faberge egg” — the author has apparently never seen one, since what she describes looks more like a gaudy Ukrainian Eastern egg than Faberge — that pops up in suburban Colorado, merely to give everyone something for which to be killing each other. And there is a “romantic subplot” that is so ridiculous, it’s beyond the limits of that already-strained bungee cord. Honey, if you find a handsome, masculine, muscular interior decorator who dresses beautifully but seems strangely resistant to your romantic advances, you have not found a guy who is saving himself for your next long-term relationship. What you have found is a gay man who is more likely to borrow your panties than try to get into them.
The plot is stupid; people are constantly acting against their own best interests and doing silly things for no reason at all. Events occur for no more sensible reason than something needed to happen because things were slowing down. The writing is turgid and awkward. The characterization is mawkish and juvenile. (Particularly loathsome is the blithe presentation of what the author apparently believes is a kleptomaniac. But the protagonist is a close second; she is constantly mentioning that she has work to do but never really does any, and has so little visible means of support that she might as well be a hooker.) The murders are offstage, tossed off in a few sentences, and nearly impossible to have occurred in the way they are described. And the base of knowledge against which all this crap is displayed is entirely inadequate; it seems almost made-up, as if the author sort of imagined what the life of an interior decorator might be like without, you know, actually talking to any. If this is what sub-literate suburban matrons are selecting with which to while away a few hours, heaven help us all.
Postscriptive note: I find, upon looking up the details of the hardcover edition, that this is from a line called “Thorndike Clean Reads”, which is described thusly:
“A mix of appealing, wholesome general fiction, mystery and romance titles. These are stories without graphic violence, explicit sexuality or strong profanity. These are entertaining stories, full of encouragement, warmth and humor that you’d be comfortable giving to your grandmother!
- Wholesome content without religious content
- A mixture of clean mystery and romance titles
- These stories do not contain graphic violence, explicit sex, or strong profanity”
That pretty much explains it all for me. No graphic violence in a murder mystery <sigh> is the same old same old. No one ever gets killed, they just “pass away” or “go to meet their maker”. Honestly, how anyone can suggest that a murder mystery does not contain graphic violence is completely beyond me. Don’t get me wrong — I am not an advocate of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction, as my regular readers know. At the same time, anyone who thinks that it is possible to write about the most despicable crime in human existence, one person killing another, and make it “wholesome”, is just kidding themselves and defrauding the reader. The ridiculous moral stance involved in dipping a brutal murder into a vat of potpourri to sanitize it is entirely beyond me. One of the reasons why people read murder mysteries is because the crime is so horrendous that the community rises up and tries to bring the perpetrator to justice, usually in the person of an amateur detective, and the vicarious participation in such an uprising is supposed to be morally uplifting. This sort of novel is a cop-out of truly epic proportions; it’s a gift-wrapped, beribboned dog turd.
“Comfortable giving to your grandmother” is a coded phrase that means you have to be senile to appreciate the virtues of this novel. Thank goodness, I loathed it.
Notes For the Collector:
I paid $1.40 for this piece de merde and that was about $1.38 too much. Someone at Thorndike Press lost their grip on economic reality and published this in hardcover (undoubtedly because lending libraries get more mileage out of hardcovers); someone on Abe wants $10.89 plus shipping for the hardcover first. It was originally published in paper at US$6.99 and CAN$8.99, and Abe has dozens available for about $1. The thing that astonishes me the most is that it is #4 in a series, and the series did not end here.