Thursday 24th September 2015
I spotted Saints & Strangers in the Amazon ‘also-bought’ list for Screw Friendship. The title was released in July and only had one review, so it fit one of my review criteria. I then read the first couple of pages and it was clearly professionally written. Sold!
Sam Warren, ex NSA hacker, doesn’t believe in the agency or its mission anymore and has set up as a PI in her home town. But the gigs she’s been getting are barely keeping up with her exuberant diet of mac ’n’ cheese and breakfast cereals. Enter stage left, the Plymouth Slayer — a religious nut with a penchant for hanging sinners, and stage right, Milo Cooke — a tall, handsome hunk who should by rights have no interest in a frizzy-haired befreckled munchkin, but who has harboured secret feelings for Ms Warren since schooldays. Awww, what a guy.
Saints & Strangers is a straight-up mystery with a dash of American history thrown in and all the ingredients fans of the genre will be looking for — the hapless cops who reluctantly enlist Ms Warren’s help, a ragtag band of suspects, the old neighbour who refuses to act her age, and (of course) the obligatory love interest, in this case a cat our feisty protagonist loves more than life itself. The MC is instantly endearing and remains so throughout — even if at times you do wonder why the cops are still bothering to share evidence with her and not just googling things themselves. My IT background makes me a particularly tough audience for computer-related antics, but the author kept me happy and on-side all the way through with skilful writing that didn’t delve into what the MC was actually doing, or how she was getting into all those databases.
With my writing goggles on, I found nothing to complain about. Richelle Elberg knows her craft and the book has been properly proofread. The story sticks to first person POV (apart from scenes in the POV of the victims), and hits all the beats. Good show.
With my marketing goggles on (and as my poor performance in the charts shows, I’m no expert), the cover could be stronger. The wacky font indicates that it’s a fun read (and it is) but the fuzziness and white background has more than a whiff of MS Paint about it. [EDIT: Okay, so I was wrong about MS Paint. The fuzziness was down to how the e-book cover had been generated from the original (perfectly crisp) artwork. Richelle has uploaded a new version which is now much clearer.] I particularly dislike the vertical placement of the word ‘AND’ — an ampersand would have been better, and in fact I’d be tempted to see if the noose could double as an ampersand, but that just shows how cliched and crap my own ideas are. I think your book deserves a better cover, Ms Elberg. If you’re going to DIY, check out Derek Murphy’s (creativindie's) excellent diybookcovers.com.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. If mystery is your bag, and especially if you’re an American (and presumably will recognise some of the historical characters), you’ll find this a satisfying and well-written story with a decent mystery, unlike so many cozy 'mysteries' that somehow sell by the cartload. This is not a cozy and there's even the odd swear-word (gasp). If your delicate constitution can handle that (yes it f*cking can) why not give it a go?
I do have to caveat my review by saying I’m not a fan of conventional mystery — I know people love them but for me, the plots hold as much surprise as an episode of Scooby Doo. So for my money Donna Harrower’s Mother, Delirious, reviewed last time — though it lacks the polish of Saints & Strangers — makes a more engaging read.