Friday, January 30, 2009

This skeleton should have stayed in the closet

The Scottish author M.C. Beaton can be guaranteed to write funny, faced-paced mysteries with flawed characters and lots of action. In her "one off" novel Skeleton in the Closet, however, she didn't manage too make her characters likable while putting them in one hair-raising situation after another.

The story opens by introducing us to Fellworth Dolphin, a nearly 40 year old virgin who still lives with his mother. His mother is a thoroughly unpleasant woman, constantly nit-picking and controlling, so it is with little sadness that Fell comes home one day from his job as a waiter and discovers her dead. His father had died several years before, so for the first time, Fell is able to take control of his life. He is stunned to learn that his parents have left both a sizable inheritance for him in their wills, as well as a box of cash in a desk drawer in the house. Fell quits his job and convinces his only friend, the dumpy and equally maternally brow-beaten Maggie Partlett, to move in with him (strictly on a platonic basis).


Maggie and Fell set out to discover where the money could have possibly come from. Was his father, who worked for the railroad, involved in a famous unsolved robbery? Are there secrets in Fell's background that might explain it? The plot moves along briskly as the two amateur detectives try to track down leads, and there are plenty of surprises to keep the story moving along.

The main problem is that Fell is a selfish, mean and totally unlikeable character. We feel sorry for Maggie, who is in love with Fell, but the way he treats her is just outlandish. He constantly belittles her, and as she has come to depend on him in order to have a place to live (as he's convinced her to quit her job, too), she simply accepts his humiliating comments and remains stubbornly loyal. Even though everything is neatly tied up with a bow at the end, it still is impossible to enjoy the story with such a bully for a leading man.

M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth mystery series are much more enjoyable. Even though the leading characters can be eccentric at times, the reader is still rooting for them. Fell Dolphin, on the other hand, is in no way deserving of sympathy. Thank goodness, it doesn't appear as if this was the start of a new series.

Final Verdict for Skeleton in the Closet: One Gherkin, for some exciting plot twists, but a nasty hero


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