Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Stuff to Spy For by Don Bruns

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Stuff to Spy For by Don Bruns. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Stuff to Spy For by Don Bruns

A James Lessor and Skip Moore Mystery

Oceanview Publishing (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-933515-22-8 (1933515228)
ISBN-13: 978-1-933515-22-9 (9781933515229)
Publication Date: November 2009
List Price: $24.95

Review: Underachieving best friends James Lessor and Skip Moore land a job installing a security system at a local government contractor but soon discover the secrets they're protecting may be of a more personal -- and dangerous -- nature in Stuff to Spy For, the third mystery in this series by Don Bruns.

The referral on the sale and installation of the expensive equipment (with its high commission for Skip) comes with a caveat: he must pretend to be the boyfriend of his contact at the company ... who just happens to be an old high school flame ... who just happens to be dating the company's CEO ... who just happens to be married to the owner's daughter. Emily, Skip's current girlfriend, isn't all that thrilled with arrangement but goes along anyway. All seems to be proceeding well when the CEO's wife contacts Skip and hires him to get the dirt on her husband's "extracurricular" activities. Conveniently ignoring the conflict of interest this represents, he sees a fat bonus, but James sees an opportunity to jump into a new business: spying on people, with all the cool gadgets that are required to do the job right. The spying part comes easy to them; it's what they learn that may cost them their lives.

The mysteries in this series are clearly influenced by the Hardy Boys books. Though written for an older reader, they tend to remain true to the overall concept of two eager, slightly bumbling, but always sincere buddies out on an adventure. But where the Hardy Boys are typically quick to spring into action once a mystery is presented to them, James and Skip are positively sluggish in getting started here. Part of the problem is the pacing of the story, which really doesn't pick up any speed until page 118 when James declares, "We're officially spies", and even then what follows is measured at best. The spy elements add a bit of sparkle to the plot, but not enough to make the story shine. Situations in which James and Skip find themselves that are clearly intended to be humorous, including the whole "ex-girlfriend call girl pretending to date Skip while dating her boss who's married to the company owner's daughter" premise, tend to fall a bit flat, and at times seem forced, not a natural consequence of anything that preceded them.

Stuff to Spy For might have been better had it taken a more Hardy Boys-style dramatic approach to the narrative, rather than trying to artificially craft light, comedic circumstances (a la Lucy and Ethel) for James and Skip to perform in. In the end it's a bit disappointing, especially since the previous books in the series adopted a straight-forward approach to the amateur sleuthing activities of the two principal characters ... and ended up with better results.

Special thanks to Oceanview Publishing for providing a copy of Stuff to Spy For for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Best friends James Lessor and Skip Moore are still stuck in dead-end jobs, still living in their ratty apartment in Carol City, Florida, and still dreaming of hitting the big time. It seems those dreams are finally within reach when James lands a job to install a state-of-the-art security system for Synco Systems. There's a huge commission -- and plenty of strings -- attached. To collect on the cash, James will have to provide "additional services" by assuming the role of pretend boyfriend of Sarah Crumbly, an employee who's having an affair with Sandler Conroy, Synco's married president. When Sandler's wife offers James a tidy sum for the dirty details about what's going on at Synco, James and Skip resurrect their entrepreneurial dreams and go into the business of being spies. The spymobile -- their beloved, rattletrap of a boxtruck -- is on its last legs, and they'll have to spend a small fortune on spy equipment, but there's no business like spy business. In this spy game, James and Skip may be the ones who get played -- or worse.

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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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