This one’s billed as a cozy mystery, though it starts with a pretty gruesome death! It does reach for that more “peaceful” level though, so I understand the tagline for this amateur detective, the “Jessica Fletcher of Hawaii”. Check out the blurb and my review below for more about this new heroine stepping into familiar shoes.
Prospect for Murder by Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
Writer Natalie Seachrist has had visions since childhood. But the vision of a girl’s body draped over a vintage Mustang shatters her personal world when she learns the body belongs to her grandniece. With the help of retired police detective Keoni Hewitt and her feline companion Miss Una, Natalie begins her own investigation at an apartment in the foothills of Honolulu. Will Natalie be able to learn the truth about Ariel’s death before the police close the investigation without an arrest? Or has Natalie put herself in the way of a killer who’s willing to kill again to hide their secret?
While I didn’t really feel the connection to Jessica Fletcher until it was mentioned, I do see the similarities between these two main characters. Both are writers who, as this first book illustrates, tend to stick their noses into others’ fishy business. However Natalie is a retired hard-news journalist where Jessica is a crime novelist. The age, the writing, the desire to help out their friends are all aspects that these two share and yet something felt different with this incarnation.
Perhaps it was Natalie’s former work that really drew them apart because for me, this story felt much darker than any Murder She Wrote ever has; not that that’s a bad thing but it doesn’t match the mood I’ve come to know from the television series. With Natalie’s memories of visiting war-torn countries on assignments, the death so gruesomely detailed around which the main mystery revolves, and just the number of deaths in total – unrelated to the current crime but this family has been wiped out! – it was escaping that “cozy” feeling for me.
It did try to gain some of that back in the surrounding activities of the characters. There’s room for humour and romantic suspense, as well as daily tasks to keep themselves busy, that puts this back on familiar ground, though perhaps at odds with the other aspects of this novel.
I will say, a minor disappointment for me was that the big reveal wasn’t at the 90% mark of the book. I’ve seen so many Murder She Wrote episodes that I’ve come to time them, and Jessica always confronts the killer with exactly 10 minutes left in the episode 😛 But hey, Natalie’s got a different system!
She also has a twist that Jessica doesn’t have to use to her advantage. Natalie has visions, often of things that have passed, and a strong bond with her brother who has a similar gift. I was quite surprised by this, as I was expecting a more traditional mystery. It felt awkward at first but as the story warms up, this strange addition to the genre actually fits in rather well.
As a former journalist, a lot of Natalie’s strengths in research and writing still came through in this story. She often does research for friends, and when this murder occurs she can use these skills for her own gain. While not the traditional sense of research we’re used to in crime shows, Natalie takes to the archives and library, tracing family lineage and uncovering possible connections that might give her a lead. Along with searching out the killer, the author sets this up as a history lesson so we get to learn a lot about Hawaii and the many people who have come to live there. It’s clear that the author has a strong love for Hawaii as she finds a way to share this in many ways in this book.
Some may not enjoy these sections as much because they can get tedious in detail, but as someone entering the archival field I found it fascinating! I’ve never actually used resources from an archives so just to hear how the process works gave me a much wider understanding of the field.
Still, the detail of this book was part of what brought my rating down, though not specifically in relation to the research sections. The writing overall felt very formal. Every aspect of Natalie’s day was spelled out, from showering to putting on makeup, and every item she had to eat that day. This detail really wasn’t needed for the story and it made it feel more like a journal entry than a narrative. Some of these things can just be imagined by the reader so we didn’t need it explicitly stated.
My other issue was, as a story set in Hawaii there were very few Hawaiians! The main family moved to Hawaii because of their involvement in the Navy, as many others in this story have done as well. There was one family that hailed from China, though the father was Hawaiian, but I was really uncomfortable with their depiction. One woman was often referred to as small: comments on her height, small feet, and lack of wrinkles. Asian representation was really not handled well in this book and Hawaiian rep was almost non-existent. It felt a shame after all the rich history about the state that makes up a large part of the story.
Overall, I felt it was a compelling mystery, but Hawaii can’t be used solely as a location. You’ve gotta include the people!
Sorry about the length! Apparently my reviews get long when I write them at midnight!
About the Author: Debut author Jeanne Burrows-Johnson draws on a multi-faceted background in the performing arts, education and marketing. The well-researched elements of her Natalie Seachrist mystery series invite the reader and listener into the sensory rich environs of Hawai’i, where she lived for over twenty years. Like her heroine, she and her husband enjoy feline companionship in an environment featuring dynamic skies, landscapes and characters.
Academically, she was accepted for membership in Phi Beta Kappa while completing her Bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Hawai`i. During graduate studies and a teaching assistantship, she became a member of Phi Alpha Theta. She is also a Lifetime Member of the British Association of Teachers of Dancing, Highland Division.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.