Monday, August 31, 2015

A Death for a DilettanteA Death for a Dilettante by E.X. Giroux
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My life has been devoted to my own gratification and I've always gotten exactly what I wanted."

Winslow Maxwell Penndragon thus states his life philosophy. He is the titular dilettante of E.X. Giroux's (a pseudonym of Doris Shannon) "A Death for a Dilettante" (1987). At least he is honest about the attitude, not like those of us who try to disguise it under the cover of serving humanity: politicians and celebrities being the most striking examples.

Penndragon believes that someone has made two attempts on his life. He consults his godson, Chief Inspector Kepesake of the New Scotland Yard, who recommends turning for help to Robert Forsythe, a lawyer, and his secretary Miss Sanderson (I understand these are the recurrent characters in this alliteratively-titled series). Since quite a crowd of people reside at the Penndragon's mansion, they pose as his guests and quietly look into the murder attempts. The plot thickens when they learn from Penndragon that three of the guests are his illegitimate children whom he fathered with different women: he has managed so far to keep his paternity secret. The stereotypical, clich├ęd plot serves mostly as an obfuscation tool so that the readers have more difficulty in solving the case themselves. Alas, after the relatively absorbing beginning, my interest waned and conquering the second half of the book became a chore.

Well, once you read one cozy mystery, you read them all. Perhaps I am exaggerating, but the conventions of a cozy are so restrictive that I find it virtually impossible to create anything really new in the genre. The only substantial differences may lie in the writing: style, mood of the novel, and - of course - characterizations. Ms. Shannon certainly writes better than Agatha Christie, but the characters feel as paper-thin as in the lamest novels by Dame Agatha. One thing about the prose strikes me: if not for a single mention of a computer, the novel could have been written in 1947 or 1957 or 1967 rather than in 1987. Even worse, the plot could be situated in any Western country, UK or France or Holland, which is another argument that cozy mysteries are template-driven retellings of the same story without much connection to the real world, its space and time.

One and three quarter stars.


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