Amber Quill Press, LLC
In 50 Ways to Kill Your Lover, T.K. Sheils takes the traditional 'cozy' with its amateur 'tec, closed environment and limited range of suspects, to sea. The unlucky ship Hephaestus, full of Canadians, leaves Cozumel, Mexico, on a Caribbean cruise. A corpse, a stowaway and some cruise contest winners who can't remember entering any contest are aboard.
Stowaway Hunter Knox, Canadian actor and petty con man, goes to the exercise area of the ship to replenish his wardrobe from the lockers. He left Cozumel quickly, wearing a port official’s uniform over a pair of shorts and shirt. His brown shoes were not mates. [Forget the murder. Mystery 1: Why does anyone, even one leaving Cozumel quickly, have on mis-mated shoes?] While in the locker room, he finds a pair of sandals and talks to an elderly, confused naked man who says he has been poisoned.
In the ship's bar, Hunter is picked up by Loraine, beautiful, blonde, rich, big-busted and divorced. Loraine has a genuinely original pick-up line: she asks about his boxers. Confused, he thinks she thinks he's a boxer and agrees that he is a boxer. She is asking about his underwear.
Loraine, clever in addition to her other attributes, has deduced that he is a stowaway: he paid for his drink in cash, claiming he had forgotten his room number. She says her companion for the cruise was forced to cancel, and offers to let him take her companion's place at dinner. (Amateur detectives come in pairs; we've now got our Tuppence.)
Hunter goes back to the locker room to find suitable dinner clothes. The elderly man is now a corpse, hanging upside down in one of the lockers. He may have been poisoned; he's also been bludgeoned, battered, strangled, garroted and stabbed. If the corpse hasn't been murdered in fifty ways, he has at least been subjected to over-kill.
Hunter finds slacks and a dinner jacket and rejoins Loraine. They find a table and discover all of their fellow diners are on the cruise as a result of winning a contest. There is an empty seat at the table and the passengers begin speculating about the missing passenger. [Mystery 2: They come in pairs. The table seats ten. Why is there one empty seat? Mystery 3. Seating is not assigned. How do they end up at the same table? Hunter attempts to answer Mystery 3. They just did.]
The next morning, the corpse has been found. So has Hunter. Accompanied by Loraine, he is interviewed by the Captain. He suggests to the Captain that he attempt to find the murder. The Captain agrees and Hunter is made a member of the entertainment division of the crew. He and Loraine begin detecting.
50 Ways to Kill Your Lover is described as a "mystery/humor". It is more successful as humor than as a mystery. Some of the rants, one-liners, puns and grotesque characters are extremely funny. If one joke doesn't work, there's a better one a sentence later.
Many of the jokes revolve around being Canadian:
"...Fred apparently is bi and bi."
"Bilingual and bicultural?"
"Only a Canadian could think of that in this situation,"
Hunter explains the difference between Canadian and American actors, one of the funniest things in the book. At its best, the humor in the book involves a sense of recognition, a skewed presentation of something ordinary--cubism translated into the music hall. Sheils, the author, is an actor, and I suspect some of the humor comes to life on a stage. .
For example, Hunter, at a hotel in one of the ports, works hotel stand-up comic. He gives a long rant proving airplanes can't fly. It goes over well. Then, aboard ship, he gives another routine proving ships can't float. I didn't think either was funny - but a good comedian could have sold it.
However, when Hunter can’t understand why the audience loved his airplane jokes and hated the ones about ships sinking, I laughed out loud.
The humor shifts from that typical of Charlotte Macleod’s mysteries to Monty Python to the funniest kid in your junior high. If you tolerate the Ministry of Funny Walks for the joys of the Spanish Inquisition, you'll probably enjoy the book - especially if you're Canadian.
If it weren't for the sex scenes, it would be a good book for your twelve-year-old nephew. Actually, a twelve year old would probably love the sex scenes and probably could have written them. The sex involves descriptions of big busts, long legs, lustful lovers and is almost a parody of an erotic scene. I didn’t find it offensive, but the mother of my twelve-year-old nephew would definitely disapprove of this as a Christmas gift for the boy.
This is a good book to take on a cruise in the Caribbean. As the ship pulls into a new port, a page or so of straightforward tourist information begins the chapter.
The book will not, however, satisfy a traditional murder mystery fan. If you expect mysteries to work like puzzles, with transparent, logical thinking and deductions, this is not the book for you. It's a 'black box' mystery. Something the detective says is a clue goes into the black box, something different comes out of the black box, and the detective says all is explained. The suspension of disbelief factor is exponential. Coincidence plays a major role in the book.
There are too many suspects, all more or less cardboard cutouts, difficult to keep straight. They have the same motive for murder. They change names frequently. They have multiple identities, Even the ship has a multiple identities.
It's well written but badly edited. Cutting about 25% of the book would improve it considerably. So would cutting the mystery element and simply presenting it as social satire. The book will not appeal to everyone. However, if you are a fan of Spike Milligan and the Goon Squad, the goodies, and Monty Python, give it a go. Especially if you are snowed in in Manitoba.
Reviewed By Wenonah Lyon