Before this book, I enjoyed or at least appreciated all the books I was assigned to read for my detective novel class in college. And then Cassandra Reilly and her associated foolery stomped into my life.
In hindsight, I suppose the description on the back of the book should have tipped me off. First it informed me that this book has won “a British Crime Writers’ Association Award for Best Mystery Set in Europe and a Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery.” Best Lesbian Mystery? That’s like saying that you’ve just won a Pacific Rim Emmy – the award is just a basketball trophy with some wings glued on. Then there was the plot description itself, some of which goes like this: “Cassandra is soon on the trail of the elusive Ben, as well as a mysterious foot therapist named April Schauer and a sax player reputed to be from Prague.”
As my friend said after reading that description: “It’s like a Mad Lib.”
That’s my main problem with this book – Wilson is just trying too damn hard. Once she finds a plot device, she reuses it over and over because she figures that if once was good, three times is gold. Near the beginning of the story, we learn that one of the characters is actually transgendered. Twist! It was interesting and thought-provoking. Then it happened with another character. Odd, but I was still on board. Then it happened again with a third character. For fuck’s sake, Wilson.
Similarly, there is a small child involved in the plot, and she gets kidnapped towards the middle of the book. I was concerned, and involved. Then the child is found. And kidnapped again. I was amazed at this child’s bad luck, but still interested. Then the kid gets found, and kidnapped a third time, and all I could think was, “This is getting stupid.”
Note to all aspiring authors: when a child’s disappearance only causes your audience to be annoyed, you’re doing something wrong. It was also hard to care about the kid because none of the characters did. This little girl gets passed around between characters like she’s an object, and people squabble and worry over her disappearance with the same level of detachment. It was weird, and sad.
As if that weren’t all bad enough, there was the fact that I didn’t care about any of the characters. They all wanted Cassandra Reilly’s help, but I didn’t want her to help them, because they were all shallow and stupid and utterly unlikeable. For that matter, I didn’t much care what Cassandra did either because she was similarly unpleasant. She’s mean and snippy and devoid of charisma, and she’s also a total snob. Every few pages she’s like, “Ooh, I love to travel, I hate staying in one place, I’ve had all these awesome adventures and it’s so cool being me” and she sounds like that friend you had in college who studied abroad in London for a semester and came back with a British accent. At one point Cassandra’s sort-of girlfriend (I’m not even going to get into that) tries to convince Cassandra that she’d like to come along on the bitchy sleuth’s adventures, saying, “I like to travel, too.” In response, Cassandra sneers at her, “No, you do not, Ana. I mean, a trip to Rome or Paris for two weeks is not the same as a six-week trek through Mongolia.” Fuck you, Cassandra – just because she doesn’t have the resources or time to devote to aimless wandering doesn’t mean Ana doesn’t like traveling.
Cassandra’s real job, by the way, is translating. During her adventures in this story, she’s working on translating a Spanish book into English, and spends a lot of time mocking the author’s romantic, magical realism story. But I was, honestly, a lot more engrossed in that book than I was in Cassandra’s story. Authors, take down another note: when the reader is more interested in the fake novel – the novel your protagonist consistently makes fun of – you’re doing something wrong.
Also, did everyone catch the title’s oh-so-clever pun on Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night? Ugh. I’m embarrassed for you, Wilson. Dorothy Sayers is embarrassed for you.
Verdict: one out of five stars