Most people have found the Ryder & Loveday mysteries by way of Faith Martin's DI Hillary Greene series, and I was no exception. Faith Martin wrote seventeen mostly-excellent police procedural murder mysteries featuring an outstanding heroine in DI Greene, and I very much looked forward to this new mystery series.
This series has a bit of a different flavor. Like the DI Greene series, they're set around Oxford, but unlike that series, Ryder & Loveday are set in 1960. Both of our heroes—sexagenarian coroner Dr. Clement Ryder, hiding a medical secret, and probationary WPC Trudy Loveday, whose all-male station house co-workers continually underestimate her—are excellent, well-rounded characters; easy to root for without making either of them goody-two-shoes. The differences in the culture are pronounced as well, especially in terms of gender dynamics, but in the first two books of the series, it never overpowered the story.
In A Fatal Flaw, the third book of this series, gender dynamics are at the foré, as the murders take place around a beauty pageant. The book gets awfully close to Making A Point in a few spots, but while it gets close to the line, it never crosses it.
The murder investigation itself, of one of the pageant contestants, is a masterful piece of misdirection that never quite feels like misdirection. The red herrings are well done, never leaving me feeling like I just wasted my time, and when the reveal comes, it's much different than in the first two books—and while I had suspected who the murderer was, the way the plot unfolds near the end is satisfying. Martin is a talented writer indeed: even though what I suspected would happen actually came to pass, I was still on the edge of my seat.
However, I have to dock the book a star because of narrative tricks in the constantly shifting point of view. We see the perspective of the unnamed (and even ungendered) murderer, going inside their head—and not just with the opening chapter, but throughout the book. We also, at various times, hopscotch into the heads of the different pageant contestants and judges. The vast majority of the other books are told in third person, usually from the point of view of either Ryder or Loveday; there are occasional chapters where the reader sees something neither main character does, but it's usually very consistent. But jumping heads in this book doesn't seem to add much to the narrative, nor to the buildup of suspense. Being in the murderer's head in Chapter One means that we know the death of the pageant contestant is a murder, not an accident, from the get-go.
In addition, we see the murderer's thoughts—but what Martin shows isn't believable; it's an obfuscated version of what would actually be going through their head. After the reveal, we know exactly what (and who) the murderer would thinking about when planning the murders, but that isn't shown to the reader when we're in their head. It's obvious that it's a narrative trick, and I found myself more frustrated than intrigued—and after the reveal, it definitely feels like those sections were inauthentic.
Still, the ending is so good—and the characters of Ryder & Loveday so compelling—that one star is all that gets docked, and I look forward anxiously to the release of the next book.
4 stars out of 5.
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