An out of practice reader discussing the books I get around to reading.
Okay, let's get to it!
In File M for Murder, Charlie and his beloved cat Diesel are thrilled when Charlie's daughter, Laura, comes home to teach at the college for a semester. The only downside? Genius but asshole play write, Connor Lawton, is also teaching AND he happens to be Laura's ex boyfriend is also teaching at the school. When Connor ends up dead, Charlie works to solve the mystery before Laura becomes the prime suspect.
So, a lot of the things that were good about this one are pretty similar to what I praised in Murder Past Due (which you can read here). We get to see more of Charlie's expertise as a librarian help him sleuth, which was cool. I like the idea of incorporating Connor's work in progress with the mystery itself and the motive behind his murder was definitely original. There was a lot of danger in this one two with higher stakes than I'm used to from cozies. I knew who the murder was almost from the beginning but I wasn't disappointed with the outcome. The way the puzzle pieces fit together at the end was really quite brilliant and I think, as I did with the first book, that James is pretty skilled at crafting mysteries.
Unfortunately, unlike the first book, James did not craft this novel very well. Let's start with the mystery. It took FOREVER for any detective work to actually begin. I think at least one hundred pages. I could be wrong but I thought the MPD got to the mystery much quicker. Not much of FMfM was actually devoted to the mystery and Charlie's investigation but rather drama. If you dissect the book, more time is spent on Laura's relationship problems, Charlie's budding romance, and Charlie and Sean being overprotective than any sleuthing. When the who-done-it was finally revealed, it was crammed into the last ten pages and very anti-climactic. It made sense but it didn't feel earned which led me to feel disappointment.
Another big issue with this book is the characters themselves, specifically the new ones. They all just felt so hollow and underdeveloped. Many of them were very stereotypical, like Connor as the chauvinist writer or Demitra Vane as the vapid LA actress. Vane in particular got on my nerves since, aside from being another suspect, she had almost nothing to do with the story and James never does explain how her earring was left at the scene of the crime or why she was murdered. There are a lot of problems with Vane but I'll talk more about that in a moment. Overall I couldn't really like the newer characters since there wasn't much presented to actually like. It's disappointing, again since I know James can write characters better.
Now, as I've mentioned twice already, I noticed a lot of sexism in this book that was rather hypocritical considering how much James decried it in MPD and with his "bad guys" tending to be chauvinists. Laura, for example, really annoyed me as a character since she was (and I know people hate this term) a Mary Sue. There was no fault to her, everyone loved her, and even though she tampered with a crime scene/withheld evidence, nothing actually happened. The way Sean and Charlie fawned over her was obnoxious and when they went to the party the way Charlie described her was just down right creepy. I literally though, dude you're talking about your daughter. She was supposed to be someone we cared about but instead I found myself skimming past her scenes. She just wasn't interesting.
Demitra Van was more blatantly awful. I get why she was supposed to be there. A jealous ex makes for AMAZING suspect material. The problem is, she a) wasn't original and b) was really offensive, in my opinion. James copy and pasted the stereotype of the stupid Hollywood bimbo and expected us to buy it. Well I wasn't. She came across as a bimbo from a stereotypical porno but I really don't think there are people like that in real life. Not that people aren't stupid but how stupid he made her was just ridiculous. And it bothers me that he goes for "voluptuous girl is obviously the vapid snob" stereotype. As a rather voluptuous gal myself with a rather voluptuous sister, I'm tired of this stereotype and it's one of the few that really offends me. And as mentioned, the only reason she seemed to be in the story was to provide another suspect and then just die. For someone who looks down upon the way mystery novels treat women, he sure treated Demitra like trash. It's disappointing, it really is.
Final rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. I dunno. Maybe it's because I can't help but compare it to MPD. But overall this one was just disappointing. I'd skip this one if you're interested in the series.
Final note: You might not find the characters in this story particularly offensive. Normally I don't get too chuffed by portrayals of women, at most rolling my eyes. But as I said, he used a stereotype people have applied to me and women I know and it boiled me over. So just keep that in mind.