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Shades of Murder is a small book with a lot going on. There's Mac Faraday, a retired detective and son of a late mystery writer who has inherited millions in the past and is now inheriting a painting and a mystery to solve. There's Ilysa Ramsay, an artist who died mysteriously years ago and whose last painting was missing until Mac inherited it. Then there's Joshua Thornton, a prosecuting attorney who finds himself investigating the unsolved murder of a Jane Doe #4. Oh, and there's Oliver Cartwright, the convicted rapist and murderer who insists he's not responsible for the death of Jane Doe #4 and wants Joshua to find her real killer. Confusing? Exactly.
I'm not usually a fan of books that start with a dramatis personae, or cast of characters. If an author wants to tease the readers with a few juicy details about the characters we'll be meeting, that's fine. It's like the literary equivalent of an amuse-bouche, that tiny mini appetizer before a meal. But if the list of characters and their descriptions is meant to be a shorthand, a reference list that the reader is meant to commit to memory or else refer back to while reading in order to know who everyone is, well that I find cumbersome.
Shades of Murder starts with a
daunting cast list--two pages worth--filled with names I found completely unfamiliar as I had never read a Lauren Carr book before (I believe that both the characters of Mac Faraday and Joshua Thorton each have their own series). Whenever I see a list like this at the beginning of a book, I just hope that the writing is strong enough and that the character development is sufficient that I don't have to keep referring back to the front of the book to figure out what's going on. (This is especially true when I'm reading an e-book, as I'm still getting used to how to skip back and forth on my Kobo without losing my place. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "It's not that hard!" but bear with me, I'm an e-reader noob.)
Alas, for a very short book--only 120 pages or so on my e-reader, so more of a novella--I did find it very confusing. The large list of characters were all involved in disparate subplots that I found difficult to keep straight (they do come together in the end, but I was struggling to piece it together). On the plus side, each of the subplots is very interesting and had me hooked, but that just made me more annoyed that I couldn't always figure out what was going on. I think readers of previous Mac Faraday or Joshua Thornton books would find it easier to keep up, but as a first time reader I was hoping for more background information (and not just in the form of the cast list at the beginning). I found myself wishing that the book had been longer and that the stories had been told slower.
All in all, though, saying that "I wish this book had been longer" is not exactly a bad thing. The story and the characters are great, it's just that this particular book felt like a condensed version of their tale.
Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley.com. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.