The 5 False Suicides by James Scott Byrnside

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1947, New Sweden, Maine. Gretta Grahame is rebuilding her life, working at the local library and presiding over her murder-mystery club. Reading books and discussing plots for their own attempts at writing mystery fiction has brought the group together, but a real-life mystery might bring it all to an end.

Gretta’s family, she discovers, has a curse upon it, a curse that has caused all of her recent ancestors to commit suicide in a variety of ways. Lured to a near-deserted island to break the curse, along with the members of the book-club, it seems that the curse is far from broken. As the group begins to die one-by-one, apparently killing themselves locked in their bedrooms. Can the curse be real? Because there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation…

This is the fourth mystery from James Scott Byrnside after Goodnight Irene, The Opening Night Murders and The Strange Case Of The Barrington Hills Vampire. I’ve only read the third of these – a fun read, but I did think it had problems, one of which was that perhaps there was a little too much going on. Unfortunately – or fortunately if you like your books running at a breakneck pace – there’s even more happening here.

Advertising the number of deaths in the title means that once one body is found, we are rapidly heading towards the next one, but in fact there are far more than five deaths here, and that’s not counting the suicides in Gretta’s family that kick the whole thing off. The pace didn’t bother me too much, but it doesn’t leave much time for the characters to react to what has happened. Take And Then There Were None, with a similar death and page count, but it still had time for some strong characterisation. Here, someone dies, but everyone seemed to act like they were in an episode of Scooby Doo, rushing around trying to solve the mystery. And I’m pretty sure a sheriff killing someone doesn’t earn them a transfer, but a more serious punishment…

It’s not just the title that homages Carr. There are a number of nods to his work here, although I won’t cite them as it might spoil a surprise or two. The plot is delightfully intricate and deserved a longer word count to let everything sink in. And also to explain how the proposed trick (not the solution, the one discussed quite early on) for locking the door works, as while I can see how it gets the key in the lock, no-one seemed to mention how the key was then turned – I still don’t understand why you couldn’t stick the key in the inside lock, go through the door and then do whatever you do to lock it. And one of the other murders… seemed to be a gamble that it would work exactly how it did.

At the end of the day, I did enjoy the ambition on display here, and it is a real page turner, but I do feel that the characters needed developing more in order to care about them when they died (as most of them do). Perhaps a longer page count and a few less “suicides” might have helped.

Oh, and why “5” and not “Five” in the title? That more than anything else really bugs me, which probably says a lot about me…

4 comments

  1. To be fair, during the first suicide incident, it was brought up that a barrel lock can be locked with a hairpin or a paper clip as long as the key isn’t inside the lock to block the attempt. Which explains why you would have to insert the key after doing so (and you wouldn’t need to turn the key).

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    • OK, so if the key isn’t in the lock, you can lock it from the outside with a hairpin. If the key is in the lock, then you couldn’t turn the key using any device. So you have to leave the room, lock it with a hairpin, then replace the key somehow.

      It never mentions the possibility of turning the key from the outside though, does it?

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    • But aren’t such methods like locking from outside with a hairpin or paper clip and then managing to insert the key from inside really mediocre methods ?

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