Murder on the Hoof by Kathryn O’Sullivan
I recently read an article discussing which reviews “go viral” and achieve a readership unexpectedly high. The answer according to this author are reviews which find fault with whatever product or service is being discussed. The alleged reason is that the vocabulary available to explore the depths of badness are far more engaging than the choice of words and phrases to say how “awfully jolly good” the thing or service is. After finishing Murder on the Hoof by Kathryn O’Sullivan (Minotaur Books, 2014) I find myself having to write a bad review and face the problem of how vicious to make it. Let me start with the decision of the publisher to accept such a work for sale to the unsuspecting public. I often choose to review Minotaur Books because they are reasonably consistent in standard. This book, however, fails the taste test so spectacularly that everyone in the commissioning and editorial staff should be taken into a dark room (waterboards optional) and interrogated to determine their thinking processes. Hopefully, this will encourage them never to accept such a dire book again. I shudder to think how many innocent book buyers will pick up this book and find themselves either deeply depressed or spectacularly angry at having wasted their dollars on something so awful.
As to the book, I almost gave up after the first sixty or so pages. This is a story that elevates pedestrian and boring to new heights. As a cozy mystery (BTW a tea cozy was a knitted abomination using any leftover wool which was put on to keep the pot hot while the tea mashed) it panders to all the worst possible clichés. A tough woman in a physically demanding job as a fire chief is distantly enamoured of the local chief of police. When his ex comes on a visit to the small town (an ex he failed to mention in any of their not-quite dates) her head is put into a whirl. Were it not for two deaths in quick succession, she would be completely derailed. Yes, our doughty fire fighter is going to outsleuth the chief of police and, by completely upstaging him, show why he should run screaming from her presence.
Anyway, having got these two dead folk, she and the police chief put aside their difficulties over the arrival of the ex and begin the investigation. To say this is tedious is an understatement until we arrive at a piece of absurdity that leads to the final debacle. At this point, I’m going to break with convention and insert a SPOILER. Do not read on if you are minded to read this book despite my previous four-hundred words of praise. One of the deceased anticipated his demise. Having already picked out a coffin with a secret drawer, he hid the evidence in that drawer. So here comes the undertaker. He removes the coffin from store and checks it out before dressing the body after the autopsy and inserting it inside the box in preparation for the lying in. Our hero visits the mortuary, opens the coffin and discovers the secret drawer. The fire chief has special powers which enable her to detect hiding places when opening and closing coffins with dead bodies inside.
From all this, you will understand Murder on the Hoof is so bad that were Ray Bradbury writing Fahrenheit 451 today, he would want this to be one of the first books burned. Not that I blame the author. Everyone is capable of writing rubbish and it takes a dispassionate third party with some experience to save the author from his or her excesses. Thus my anger is really directed at Minotaur Books whose editorial staff should have instructed the author to rewrite until it was readable.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.