Monday, November 27, 2006

Mystery Book Review: McMansion by Justin Scott

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of McMansion by Justin Scott. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.McMansion by Justin Scott

McMansion by Justin Scott
A Ben Abbott Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-063-X (159058063X)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-063-9 (9781590580639)
Publication Date: January 2007
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Even the cozy New England town of Newbury, Connecticut, is not immune to the relentless spread of McMansions carpeting the countryside. Ben Abbott, realtor and private detective, is so incensed that he refuses to sell them. That Ben is not the only citizen of Newbury who is provoked by over-sized, ugly, wasteful houses becomes apparent when the corpse of Billy Tiller, Newbury's greediest developer, is discovered underneath his bulldozer.

The young and troubled eco-activist Jeff Kimball, who is arrested while sitting at the controls of the bulldozer, protests his innocence. Connecticut's state's attorney sees the opportunity to prosecute an open-and-shut TV murder trial that will vault him into the U.S. Senate. While Ira Levy, the small-town criminal defense lawyer hired by Jeff's hip-hop mogul father, longs to impress movers and shakers in New York City.

Ben Abbott, deep in debt to Attorney Levy for an expensive horse he gave to 12-year-old Alison, is forced to pay off the debt by trying to prove Jeff Kimball innocent of a crime that State Police Major Crime Squad Lieutenant Marian Boyce styles "perpetrator on bulldozer on victim."

It looks that way, says Ben Abbott. But in what order did they really stack up?

Review: Justin Scott's 4th book featuring realtor and private investigator Ben Abbott, McMansion, is a rather loosely constructed mystery populated with characters that seem more contrived than real.

Ben has been hired to look into an environmentalist's background by the attorney defending him, accused of the murder of a local real estate developer. The young man was arrested atop a bulldozer under which lay the crushed corpse. Ben quickly discovers that many of the developer's detractors had the means and a motive to kill the man, but which of them also had the opportunity to do so?

McMansion doesn't break any new ground here and contains a fairly routine outline of a murder mystery. For all practical purposes, Ben identifies the culprit early on when he ponders the crime scene. That leaves a lot of pages to fill. What could have made the book more interesting would have been development of good, complex characters and incorporating them and said outline into a new environment to make it more of a puzzle. McMansion tends to fail in both regards.

With only one or two exceptions, the characters here lack the multi-dimensionality that provides depth to a story. Even Ben seems a bit flat here. He doesn't want the case he's working on and resents the obligation to continue. Whining about the assignment in particular, and the title structures in general, doesn't endear him to the reader.

The setting also presents something of a problem. The fact that large homes on large lots are being purchased by people with more money than taste isn't a criminal act and by itself simply doesn't provide a strong foundation upon which to build this story. And the implication that the reason these houses exist is primarily due to the greed of developers and the corruption of zoning officials is absurd, even in a work of fiction.

There is a decent, credible murder plot buried here somewhere, but it seems Scott would rather bemoan what he perceives to be the sorry state of housing in Connecticut than craft an interesting mystery around the death of one of its developers.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of McMansion for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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