White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux
My rating: 3/5 cats
fulfilling book riot’s 2020 read harder challenge task #3: Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman
i knew i was in trouble with this one from the very first page:
Claudine couldn’t see them outside the salon’s picture window, her head stuck under a hooded dryer. With a freshly French-manicured hand, she reached into her cream-colored Chanel flap bag and pulled out the guest list: not counting herself, Henry, and their six employees. There hadn’t been much time to put the list together. Zara had let her know she was coming just a few days before. Considering the short notice and how packed Aspen social calendars were during the holiday season, these were good, solid choices:
Captain and Mrs. Tiggleman
Kevin and Jerry
The Alpine Brothers
it goes on from there to enumerate her reasons for inviting each of these people and how they will contribute to her ‘sell a house to a pop star at a holiday party’ scheme, but surely there’s a more credible transition to that bit o’exposition than to have a character for whom physical appearance is clearly a priority risk her new manicure to consult a written list of six names? because she can’t just remember those names on her own?
sure, it’s a tiny moment that most readers probably sailed through without distress, but it’s a clumsy move so easily avoided, and it just set the tone for me, clouding my opinion from the get-go.
the premise sounded great: a festive white elephant exchange goes awry when one of the unwrapped items turns out to be a statue that hosts claudine and her husband henry recognize as the murder weapon responsible for all of their professional successes, and which they assumed had been safely tucked away in a police evidence locker all these years. someone knows their murdery secret! but who? someone is messing with their heads! but why? it is all very distressing!
for the characters, maybe. for the reader, it’s kind of a drag. the statue isn’t even revealed until page 136, with fewer than 100 pages to go, so there’s not much in the way of tension-building on the journey to whodunnit-town.
worse than that, this synopsis of this book promised me Clue, and it did not give me even a tiny bit of Clue, other than there being a house full of people and some inclement weather. there’s no humor, there’s no cast of colorful characters with seeeecrets, there’s not even a murder at this damn party! there’s some murder in the past, and claudine and her husband for sure have some secrets, but the rest of the characters are just…there, not even developed enough to be viable suspects.
the synopsis is also misleading with its claim that Further adding to the drama is a snowstorm that closes nearby roads—preventing anyone from leaving, as well as keeping law enforcement from the scene. i mean, sure, there’s a mighty snowstorm, but there’s never a scene where guests try to leave and are prevented from leaving because of the snowstorm, and there’s no mention of the police until page 224 of 229.
even then, it’s more about getting the paramedics there than the cops, and the difficulty of getting to the house is delivered in a single, grammatically awkward sentence: Once they were called, it took them a while to get there, the roads were terrible.
it’s a fast read, but there’s not much to it. there’s some shitty behavior by people in their personal and professional lives, a lot of blurry background characters eating hors d’oeuvres, one reveal that was predictable and one that unsatisfyingly toes the line of the genre’s rules of fair play, plus a cringey late-stage attempt at moralizing w/r/t polite society’s fascination with true crime stories.
i give it a three because twos are what i give books that i resent for wasting my time, and this one was such a quickie that it didn’t put me out much, but it’s a weak-tea three at best.
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