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    Review of MURDER BY COMMITTEE by Veronica Heley


    Severn House, September 2005

    When her friend asks her to investigate a dog poisoning, English widow Ellie Quicke doesn't know what to expect. She certainly doesn't expect a real estate tycoon who has no interest in her help at all, blames another tycoon for poisoning his dog (and trying to poison him), and is quite ugly to Ellie and her friend. It turns out that the tycoon, Sir Arthur, is trying to develop Ellie's church property and gets mad when Ellie interfers with his plans. Pretty soon, the energetic Ellie is balancing her church work with taking care of Sir Arthur's browbeaten wife, investigating what starts as dog poisoning but soon involves hit-and-run driving and greenhouse breakins, and dealing with her aunt's need for hip replacement.

    Author Veronica Heley presents an entire range of unsavory and unlikable characters. Sir Arthur is the worst, of course--more people mourn the death of the dog than the would if Sir Arthur had eaten the poisoned pizza himself. Sir Arthur's rival, Chris Talbot is polite--but nearly as demanding and annoying. Ellie's daughter is a plague--and her child a one-kid wrecking crew. The list could go on--but I was surprised to find that Ellie herself was not more likable. She tends to judge people instantly (and negatively) and can never say no when asked to help at the church but always feels agrieved.

    MURDER BY COMMITTEE gets off to a slow start as we meet the characters, then sit through a church meeting where Ellie heads off Sir Arthur's development plans. A ray of hope shines when wife Felicity takes up with her--and there's hope that both can learn from the other. Unfortunately, Ellie is past her learning stage--except that she decides not to call the minister Tum-Tum any more.

    Most readers would expect a book with "murder" in the title to contain the murder of a human. The murder in MURDER BY COMMITTEE is that of a dog--horrible, of course, but ultimately an accident rather than intentional caninicide. I thought author Heley played with the reader, making big deals of Ellie's missing mobile phone and Talbot's wish to get the stolen computer himself rather than have it turned over to the police. In fact, neither of these 'clues,' nor many others, had anything to do with anything--nor did they distract the characters. In a mystery, a red hering should be seen by the characters rather than being pure plants intented to misdirect the reader. Finally, the resolution to the Sir Arthur difficulties seemed to me to be external to the plot--a deus ex machina.

    Very religious readers may enjoy seeing a character of faith--relying as Ellie does on her minister and prayer. As a person rather than a volunteer, however, Ellie doesn't set much of a Christian example to the reader.

    MURDER BY COMMITTEE is certainly readable and not without its enjoyable moments and Veronica Heley is an engaging writer. I only review books I complete and won't finish a book that doesn't have something going for it. Overall, though, I can't recommend this one.

    See more reviews of novels by Veronica Heley.

    One Star

    Reviewed 4/07/06

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