Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett

murder is binding by lorna barrett Publication year: 2008
Genre: Mystery
Time and place: contemporary Stoneham, New Hampshire
Narrated in: third-person limited
First sentence: “I tell you, Trish, we’re all victims.”
Verdict: It was okay.

Five months ago Tricia Miles, newly divorced, finally had the money and the means to open her own business. She has moved to a small town and she opened a small mystery bookstore, and business goes well. Her next door neighbor, Doris, the owner of a cooking book store, cannot say the same: money is tight and the owner wants to increase the rent. Doris is trying to rally the town people against the rate change, and she arranges a meeting with the owner to discuss it. That very evening she is found dead, with a knife sticking out her back and one of her most expensive books stolen.

Tricia is the one that found her, and, as she is new in town, the sheriff considers her the main suspect. Since all the locals are considered above blame, and no one in the police force moves a finger to prove the opposite, it’s up to Tricia to discover the real culprit and clear out her name.

General impression
This would have been a nice little book, and I would have quite enjoyed it, if it weren’t for the main character. Tricia and I just didn’t click, as I found her annoying above all else, and as such I wasn’t able to get lost in the story as I might have done otherwise.

Stoneham used to be a dying town, until the owner of some of the buildings on the main street had a great idea: he rented out the stores to booksellers, catering to tourist buses passing from and to cities nearby. There is a mystery book store, a cooking book store, a history book store, and so on :)

As the book opens, Stoneham has been considered the safest town in New Hampshire for the last ten years — but of course that will change after Doris’ murder. The townspeople are a bit upset about losing the title, as its PR value was good for the business; there’s even a mention of a crew having to take down the Safest Town banners from the north and the south ends of the street, and I found that (their pride in their title, the fact that they even had banners about it) quite endearing1.

Ah, Tricia. I spent quite a few pages wondering what it is that I can’t stand about her. Among other things, she’s a snob. She is repeatedly described as a passionate bookworm, and books are supposed to be her life and all — but she cares more about the form than she does about the content. Sure, she is said to love the classics of the genre — her little store is fashioned after Sherlock Holmes’ address and her cat is named Miss Marple — but she is also the type that judges a book by its cover. She makes her living selling (mostly) rare books, and she despises cheap editions (in her defense, the editions she was referring to were also abridged). I may be wrong about her, but this is the feeling I’ve had.

She also thinks herself smarter than she is. Not that she’s not smart, she is a business woman perfectly capable to take care of herself, and I admired that about her. But there is at least one moment when something was obviously amiss and, although her sister pointed it out to her repeatedly, she just wouldn’t consider it. Eh.

I think that the idea was to have Tricia as the sympathetic sister, while Angelica was supposed to be the tiresome, unlikable one. Perhaps we were even supposed to commiserate with Tricia, shaking our heads at just how tough her lot in life is with such a sister. But in my case it was the other way around, as Angelica I have really liked. Sure, she’s not perfect, and her outlook on life is more fit to a big city than a small town, particularly at first, but on the whole she felt more real. Her passion for cooking is obvious and makes her endearing, unlike Trish’s passion for books, that felt anything but authentic.

There is another reason why I liked Angelica more. The author has apparently wanted to add depth to Trish by hinting at a less than happy childhood, having been wronged repeatedly by her parents and/or sister. The trouble is that we are not told exactly what her issues are — we just see Trish disliking Angelica with all her might, even when the latter makes amends. For me, the reader, they are both blank slates, and I cannot stand behind a resentment that I have no reason to support; which meant that I kept feeling that Angelica is being unjustly treated, so of course I sided with the wronged party, and disliked the other one. If only the author had been a bit more specific about the bad blood between the two I think what she had tried to do would have worked a lot better.

I liked the fact that there was no love story introduced for Trish. I like the fact that she can stand on her own as a character, solving her own problems and not needing a man to rescue her. There is a certain guy that she rather dislikes but I think sounds promising for the future, but I am glad it wasn’t all neatly packaged in a single 200-something pages book.

The actual plot is not that bad. Sure, the sheriff’s insistence to pin the murder on Trish requires some vast suspension of disbelief — especially when Angelica finds the stolen book in Trish’s store and the call the cops to declare that and the sheriff considers this a sign of Trish’s guilt2. Speaking of the sheriff, the one moment I really did not like Angelica was when she suggested that the reason why her sister is considered a suspect is because Trish is thin and the sheriff is fat and jealous of her good looks. A low blow, even if (perhaps) true.

Back to the plot, it was satisfactory enough (at least for me, others say it employed an overused trope), with other misdeeds uncovered along the way and more than one culprit. There weren’t any major surprises, but it would have been hard to since we only get to encounter a handful of people, and I thought the “whodunnit” bit was pretty nicely done (the reason behind it and all).

What I liked most
The idea of having a bookish-themed town :)

What I liked least
The book would have benefited from tighter editing. Starting with the mention of a “meatloaf-shaped loaf of bread” (which I read as “a loaf of bread shaped like a meat dish shaped like a loaf of bread”) from the fact that one sentence almost appears twice (Angelica and Trish find themselves twice “exploring” other people’s houses at night, and in both cases as they climb up the stairs we are told that Angelica is so close to Trish that the latter can feel her breath on her neck; I find the imagery a bit confusing — how can they climb up the stairs if they’re almost touching? — which is why I noticed that the same thing is mentioned twice, and in almost the same words).

Thoughts on the title
I have yet to discover the connection between the title and the content of the book. It is obvious that it wanted to hint to something bookish, since our main character is a bookstore-owner booklover, but I would have liked it better if it had had an actual connection with the events, other than the “murder” bit.

Thoughts on the ending
Okay, I guess. Everyone’s happy, the perpetrators punished, all’s well when it ends well, that sort of thing.

show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who like cozy mysteries. It’s rating on is above average (3.70) so I guess people usually like it more than I did (I gave it two stars).

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  1. On the other hand I also find sort of amusing just how much down the drain their title is heading to: since there is a whole series of murder mysteries taking place in Stoneham I imagine that eventually the town will be a good candidate for “the small town with the most murders” in New Hampshire []
  2. “I contend that you stole that valuable book and killed Doris Gleason for financial gain.”, she insists. Leaving aside the fact that there was actually no financial gain in it for Trish, since she and Doris were just neighbors. []