Every literature enthusiast knows how murder mystery novels go – – – they are always expected to be thrilling, because that is what money is paid for.
In reality, inspiration hits you right where and when you don’t expect it to. In Jack McCormac’s Fetching Fiona and the Sketching Detective Solve the Crisscross Murders, readers find inspiration right in the middle of murder investigations.
It is October and time to participate in Bonnie Glen’s annual witch contest. This is usually a joyous event in Jack and Fiona MacKay’s hometown, but not this year. The event turns gruesome when Jack, who is one of the judges, discovers that a witch display includes a dead man. He and Fiona, both amateur sleuths, begin investigations once they learn that the deceased has been identified as Randall Evans, a wealthy local accountant. Even more disconcerting is his cause of death: belladonna, a substance commonly used by ophthalmologists to dilate patients’ eyes.
As the civil engineering professor and architect, respectively, probe deeper into the mysterious case, other belladonna victims surface, such as Mr. Evan’s mother and his cousin. But with the addition of these victims, the case becomes convoluted. After considerable thinking and questioning anyone who can offer any information and only an odd set of clues, Jack and Fiona have an idea who the culprits may be. Whether or not they can confirm their theories remains to be seen.
Author Jack McCormac has a laid back approach to a twisted plot in the seventh book of his Jack MacKay mystery series. Fetching Fiona and the Sketching Detective Solve the Crisscross Murders is written in a quasi-carefree storytelling fashion from the viewpoint of Jack MacKay. Speaking directly to his audience (readers), Jack vacillates his tale of this latest mystery between three different styles: very light noir, informative (such as one would expect in a classroom), and downright goofiness. Presenting a mystery in a roundabout way, McCormac’s plot is reminiscent of the TV gumshoe Colombo.
While the former two styles mentioned above are understandable, the latter needs further explanation. McCormac has designed his main character to be a bit of a halfwit, especially in dealing with his wife, Fiona, who he absolutely adores. Jack frequently puts his foot in his mouth, which gets him in trouble, such as when they visited a flea market and Fiona had her eyes on a particular piece of jewelry. Also, Jack’s buffoonery comes out in his various side-note explanations. There are many examples of this in the book to justify these comments. McCormac’s deliberate use of banality may produce a few chuckles but it certainly throws enough red herrings into the plot to get readers wondering just what direction the case it going.
Fetching Fiona and the Sketching Detective Solve the Crisscross Murders is a perfect read for those looking for an atypical mystery with a little old-fashioned feel to it.
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Hollywood Book Review
This is the seventh mystery that author Jack McCormac has penned featuring the husband and wife sleuthing team of Fetching Fiona and Jack. She’s an architect with a tendency to do her best thinking while moving to and fro in a rocking chair. He’s an assistant professor of civil engineering given to frequent doodling. While not professional gumshoes, they are often asked to help untangle tough-to-solve crimes by the local constabulary’s chief of police, Fat Joe. As is often the case in genres such as this, Fiona and Jack are more than happy to brighten their lives by dipping into seedy goings-on. This time the seediness is murder—not just one, but two.
The first involves a Halloween display of a decorative witch, that turns out not to be a witch at all but rather the deceased body of a wealthy local accountant. Autopsy results point to poisoning by an ingestion of belladonna, a particularly toxic substance obtained from a garden plant often referred to as monkshood. Seems the nasty stuff is pretty darn lethal and it certainly did the job on the numbers cruncher. When a rich man dies, the wife is almost always the first suspect. In this case however, she’s got a locked down alibi, having been hundreds of miles away when his time of death was determined.
As Fiona, Jack, and Fat Joe are spending hours and days ruminating over the perplexing poisoning, another body turns up in a river near the amateur detectives’ retirement cottage, more frequently referred to as a shack. This corpse has an arrow in its back. Since there haven’t been any Native American uprisings in the area for centuries, the hunt is on for someone who is into archery. That’s after, of course, this second rich man’s wife has been looked into. Oddly enough, she too was literally in another state when his hubby turned into a target.
Before you know it, multiple suspects for both murders begin to emerge. As does the possibility that the killings were not unrelated. While both spouses seem to have iron clad alibis, no one is dropping off the suspect list prematurely as Fiona and Jack rock and sketch their way through malignant machinations at an antique fair, tearful reminiscences at an orphanage, goats on the roof of a furniture store, and more.
The author moves his tale along at a measured pace. He’s in no rush to leave one cliff-hanger after another at the end of each chapter. His principal characters, Jack and Fiona, personify comfort—both in their own skins and with one another. They’re not like the oh-so-sophisticated Nick and Nora Charles from the classic Thin Man series. Nor are they on the leading edge of cultural hipness ala McMillan & Wife or Hart to Hart. They’re down-to-earth nice people who just happen to be wickedly proficient at solving complicated crimes, as the Crisscross Murders turn out to be.
If mystery is your cup of tea, sans gratuitous gore, gruesomeness, and profanity, then check out Fetching Fiona and the Sketching Detective in this or other of their adventures. They’re good company who will definitely keep you guessing.
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