A winsome murderYes, it’s time for another guest review! This time by my wonderful friend Jen Locke (yes, another Jen). Learn more about Ms. Locke below.

A troubled young woman is found murdered in her hometown. It’s a small town in southern rural Wisconsin named Winsome Bay. She’s spent much of her time recently living in Chicago, so part of the mystery is how she ended up back in Winsome Bay.

When a murder with similar characteristics occurs in Chicago, big city cops James Mangan and Frank Cusumano (affectionately known as “Coose”) join Winsome Bay’s Police Chief Wesley Faber in analyzing the murderer’s origin and story.

The story is told through a 3rd person narrator, who moves seamlessly from scene to scene, following different characters at different times. But after a few dozen pages in, the individual stories take on their own feel and they don’t need to be separated by chapters. As a matter of fact, the absence of chapters seems to help propel the story faster and faster and faster until it seems to be running away and keeping up seems the only thing to do. It makes putting down the book harder and harder as the pages fly by.

Being a Wisconsinite, I felt a little offended that the characterization of many of the Wisconsin characters was a bit too “country-bumpkinish.” And the officers from Chicago felt a little stereotypical. In fact, many of the minor characters seemed more nuanced than the main ones. The potential exists for the Chicago and Winsome Bay police to move forward into new adventures, though, and through this to develop into very interesting and multifaceted characters.

The most unique thing about the book is a quirkiness of Mangan’s. He experiences sudden random literary outbursts in his head. He’s self-educated and the descriptions of his house include books on every horizontal surface and books piled on other piles of books. He’s been through these works so often the snips from Shakespeare and Melville (and others) arise spontaneously and relate to the crime to help nudge his thoughts in the right direction. The way the case begins and ends for Mangan with a quote from Titus Andronicus nicely bookends the story and draws parallels to enrich the reader’s experience. DeVita’s experience acting and directing in the American Players Theatre, a Shakespeare troupe located in Spring Green, Wisconsin (a town much like Winsome Bay itself) likely contributes much to this insertion of literary quotations, and definitely helps with writing accurately about the setting.

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it a lot. And that’s okay. Maybe DeVita’s next book will explore the officers’ characters more deeply and give us another suspenseful murder-mystery to solve alongside them.

Meet Jen Locke: Jen works at a library and is trying to keep up with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and her book group while indulging her own interests as much as possible. In her spare time she likes to swim, enjoy the outdoors, play with her pets, and geek out with the newest tech gadgets she can get her hands on. She and Bookish Jen met when they both attended Milwaukee’s Alverno College.

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