Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hurricane Party, by Steve Brown

Hurricane Party
by Steve Brown

It's a time-honored premise of mystery fiction - take a group of characters, cut them off from the rest of the world by one means or another and have one of said characters (presumably) start bumping off the others. It's a premise that was most famously used by Agatha Christie in And Then There Were None and I'll pause to direct you to At the Scene of the Crime, where Patrick has been doing an in-depth analysis of that landmark work.

But of course there have been many other authors who have made use of this premise with varying degrees of success and some have made no bones about the fact that they're trying out their own variations on Christie's theme. I'm always willing to take a shot at a book that utilizes this device and three works that I've especially liked are A Dark and Stormy Night, by Jeanne Dams; The Burglar in the Library, by Lawrence Block; and Nine Man's Murder, by Eric Keith.

Given all of this I was quite keen to take Steve Brown's Hurricane Party out for a spin. Nothing tricky about that title, mind you. Brown's cast of characters are a group of people who are attending an actual (somewhat ill-advised) hurricane party at a beachfront mansion in South Carolina. The host, who fancies herself to be something of a witch, has promised that she'll use her powers to stop the hurricane but it's not too long before someone puts a stop to her life, in a manner of speaking.

And so it goes. As the plot unfurls, it turns out that nearly everyone in attendance has some thread connecting them in their past and a number of them have been involved in an incident that perhaps was not quite illegal but was decidedly unethical and unsavory, to boot. Brown dedicates the book to Christie and early on it's a fairly straightforward variation on And Then There Were None. The body count mounts and the hurricane rages (making a comeback after the witch had apparently halted its progress) and Brown's series character, investigator Susan Chase, steps in and takes over, attempting to figure out who's doing it.

All of which was worked pretty well until somewhere near two-thirds of the way through the book. At this point what had been a fairly cozy-ish reworking of Christie took an abrupt left turn. Chase and a few others began battling the storm and a few of the other more aggressive guests in a succession of scenes that's more suited to an action thriller - or whatever you want to call it. Which didn't quite work for me. Ditto for Chase herself, who apparently has a quite turbulent past and might be justifiably angst-ridden but for me a little bit of that sort of thing goes a long way.

But I realize that my thoughts on these two points is really just a matter of personal preference and so while I wasn't quite blown away by Hurricane Party I also realize that there may be others who will find it quite enjoyable.

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