Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mystery Book Review: A Merry Band of Murderers

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of A Merry Band of Murderers, edited by Claudia Bishop and Don Bruns. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.A Merry Band of Murderers, edited by Claudia Bishop and Don Bruns

A Merry Band of Murderers, edited by Claudia Bishop and Don Bruns
An Original Mystery Anthology of Songs and Stories
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-301-9 (1590583019)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-301-2 (9781590583012)
Publication Date: August, 2006
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): A Merry Band of Murderers is more than a compilation of short mystery stories from some of the genre’s finest writers. It is also an exploration of music. Conceived by Claudia Bishop and Don Bruns, the collection is staged in two acts: first, a non-fiction discussion of short stories, mysteries, and music; and second, a compilation of musical short mysteries.

The first act opens with an essay by Bishop explaining the role of the short story in mystery writing and another essay by Bruns discussing writers who play, sing, and compose.

The second act is more whimsical. There are thirteen music-centered stories from authors Mary Anna Evans, Jim Fusilli, Bill Moody, Rupert Holmes, Rhys Bowen, John Lescroart, Nathan Walpole, Peter Robinson, Jeffery Deaver, Tom Corcoran, Val McDermid, and, of course, the editors themselves. Each story is accompanied by a short introduction, song lyrics, and an interview with the writer.

The book is packaged with a music CD with recordings by the authors. A one-of-a-kind collection.

Review: Publishers take a risk with anthologies in that they rarely appeal to a broad range of readers. Poisoned Pen Press has mitigated this risk in two ways with A Merry Band of Murderers: by assembling a collection of short story mysteries that are similar in style (not a vampire, cozy cat, or Prada shoe in sight) and have a common theme (music). The success of this book is likely to be based on two factors: how many of the 13 stories are "good" and how many of these stories seamlessly integrate the author's original musical compositions into the plot.

With respect to the first criterion, A Merry Band of Murderers is a winner. Eight of the thirteen mystery stories are competently written, have carefully constructed plots, and include interesting, well-defined characters. Three are particularly noteworthy: Mary Anna Evans' Land of the Flowers, Jeffrey Deaver's The Fan, and Val McDermid's Long Black Veil. (Two to skip: Rupert Holmes' Shuffle which is decidedly creepy, and not in a good way; and Courage, the dreadful story by Don Bruns, the only rational reason being for its inclusion in this anthology is that Bruns is an editor.)

A Merry Band of Murderers is less successful when measured against the second criterion. Only three, maybe four, stories have a musical element that forms an integral part of the plot. In some, music plays no role whatsoever.

Each story ends with an overview of the author's musical composition and an interview along the lines of Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.

On balance, A Merry Band of Murderers is an admirable anthology of short stories by a skilled company of mystery authors. The fact that the authors are also accomplished musicians seems more coincidental than intentional.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of A Merry Band of Murderers for this review. (Note: The CD that will accompany the publication of A Merry Band of Murderers was not available at the time this review was written.)

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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