Throughout literature, we’re constantly warned of the dangers inherent in revisiting the past. ”You can’t go home again,” Thomas Wolfe admonishes us. ”Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these,’ King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, adding ‘For it is not wise to ask such questions.’” And finally, from another Canon, Victor Trevor’s father has this bit of wisdom: “Of all ghosts, the ghosts of our old lovers are the worst.”* Bill Kirtland would argue that he wasn’t trying to do any of these things. After all, his old lover has become a (celibate) Daughter of St. Augustine, and he himself has made the shift from Army intelligence to life as a private detective. They’re both happy in their current lives; he simply wanted to pay her a friendly visit. Too bad that visit was to Erin, Ohio.
Poor Bill Kirtland! Like several other recent visitors to St. Benignus’ home, he ends up dead. Not only dead, but murdered. And not only murdered, but gunned down outside Erin’s new community theatre, The Lyceum, just as a new Sherlock Holmes play, “1895,” premieres.
Or perhaps that was his lucky break. In any other town, his murder may have gone unsolved. But, as with the hundreds fortunate enough to die in the vicinities of Cabot Cove or St. Mary Meade, Bill Kirtland died in the hometown of an amateur detective and his sidekick. Sebastian McCabe is on the case!*
Kind of. Actually, what with the play (which he wrote, and in which he portrays Mycroft) and all, McCabe doesn’t have a lot of time to go running around questioning suspects and re-tracing the victim’s footsteps. He ends up, therefore, relying on his brother-in-law, Jeff Cody, to do his legwork for him. After all, it’s not like Cody–who has a wedding coming up in mere weeks and inlaws-to-be to entertain–has anything better to do, right? The fact that the ex-girlfriend Kirtland had come to see is none other than his fiancée’s good friend and maid-of-honor, Mary Margaret (Polly) Malone kind of cinches the deal. Can Cody–a failed mystery novelist–prove cleverer than his hardboiled hero and his larger-than-life Sherlockian BIL and clear Polly Malone’s protegé? Can he survive meeting in-laws for whom divorce, however bitter, is not the final word? Can he survive, period?
In the year or so that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve reviewed three of Andriacco’s Jeff Cody mysteries. They are, honestly, enjoyable palate-cleansers between Serious Sherlockian Novels Requiring Canon Searches. Each Cody/McCabe book has an aspect that stands out for me. No Police Like Holmes, for example, has humorous send-ups of some of the quirky people you might find in your local scion society. Holme Sweet Holmes sees Jeff Cody grow as both a character and an individual–someone who is able to overcome his little neuroticisms and jealousies to be both a better boyfriend and detective. In The 1895 Murder, we have the same entertaining characters and (for Jeff) ridiculously uncomfortable situations, but we also have something new–an oddly bleak mystery.
Whodunit stories are, for the most part, puzzles with a point. As readers, we know to look for “motive, means, and opportunity.” And once you (or the detective) can suss out the motive, the whole plot makes sense and you can see that the murder was only the culmination of a long line of reasonable actions and reactions, a line of immoral dominoes tipped with one inciting act. When the villain is finally led away in handcuffs (or shot, or conveniently lost at sea), there is a sad sense of inevitability to the whole thing; from the first page, it could never have been otherwise. In this sense, the best mysteries are also tragedies.
In real life, however, most crimes are not tragedies so much as they are tragic. In real life, horrible things happen to innocent people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s no romantic affair, no stolen military plans, no secret pact over jewelry–only a random encounter with evil. It would be inaccurate for me to describe The 1895 Murder as ”dark”–Andriacco writes with a light, humor-filled touch and his books are firmly at the cozy end of the spectrum. But just as Holmes admonishes Watson that the bucolic landscapes flashing past the window of their train car can hide the most disturbing scenarios, so Cody’s latest adventure gently reminds us that justice is not as easily attained as we might want–and we must celebrate the good things in life and laugh at ourselves, regardless.
The 1895 Murder is the most smoothly-plotted and written Cody/McCabe mystery yet. Mr. Andriacco plays fair with the reader, but his clues are deftly hidden, much as Sebastian McCabe hides the secrets to his magic tricks under an entertaining run of palaver. Jeff Cody’s stream-of-consciousness narration is amusing as always, and still more revealing than he might wish.** Despite the title, there is less of Sherlock Holmes in this book than in its predecessors, which was a little disappointing–but at the same time understandable. A good series author knows that his success relies more in plot and character than it does in a gimmick. Lynda Teal’s parents–or, rather, her mother–was a bit unbelievable, but the “drama” she brought with her made me willing to play along. Heaven knows quite a few of us might wish the family issues that surrounded our weddings were as entertaining!***
If you’re like me, you’re probably getting a bit sick of continual reruns of “In The Bleak Midwinter,” when we should at least have a few crocuses up in the yard. If your bookshelf looks just as dreary, let Cody and McCabe provide a nice (albeit bloody) splash of humor and adventure to a cold “spring” afternoon.
The 1895 Murder and all of Dan Andriacco’s Cody/McCabe Mysteries are available in both print and ebook form, from your regular online bookseller, or direct from MX Publishing–along with a book of Sherlockian essays and two traditional short pastiches featuring The Great Detective. Mr. Andriacco has an author page on Facebook, a Twitter feed, and a blog, which you can find at http://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5: “Well worth your time and money.”
*Cabot Cove, Maine, is the home of mystery writer/amateur detective Jessica Fletcher, portrayed by Angela Lansbury in the long-running program, “Murder, She Wrote.” St. Mary Meade is the lovely English village Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple calls home. Both towns have suspiciously high murder rates, when figured per capita. It makes one wonder….
**Jeff Cody is, as always, a man who never lets a woman go by unappreciated, shall we say. Never. Ever. At one point, I even asked my husband, “Guys don’t all think like this, do they?” He said “No,” in that special way that actually means, “Yes, definitely.” Oy.
***If I say any more, I’ll pay for it the rest of my life. Trust me on this.