Review: Murder at Castle Rock

Oh, I do love finding novels from new authors – the love of writing is so apparent! There’s no routine feel. It’s lovely. So, without further ado, a review of Murder at Castle Rock by Anne Marie Stoddard.

One line review: Stoddard’s debut novel offers a fresh take on the murder mystery format, and promises a new heroine to join the ranks of the accidental detectives.

Slightly longer review: Speaking as someone who could quite happily spend days reading murder mysteries – you know, the kind set in rural English villages, where the enterprising protagonist lives in a cozy cottage with rose bushes and does a lot of tea-drinking – even I found the setting of Murder at Castle Rock to be refreshing. While the sleazy underbelly of the entertainment business has surely been overplayed, Anne Marie Stoddard does not give it undue page-time, instead portraying the darker, grittier side of the industry as only one facet – the other facet, on which she spends far more of her time, is that of a group of people who are passionate about music, work long hours, eat pizza at lunch, and have perfectly normal lives. (Except for the murders.)

To this end, Stoddard has created up Amelia Grace – a heroine who is similarly devoid of cliché. Grace’s genuine love of music is a defining trait, certainly, but what I found most refreshing was her lack of self-consciousness. Where were the body issues, the relentless self-comparison to other female characters, the cattiness solely devoted to frenemies? Mercifully, nowhere to be found. Female rivalry is matched by male rivalry. Sexual tension is only one of many motives for the murder. It was delightful.

This freshness persisted throughout other aspects of the novel. We’re all well acquainted with the format of mystery novels by this point, and introducing doubt into the proceedings takes a certain amount of skill. This, Stoddard has. She does an excellent job of showing us the unfolding story through Grace’s eyes – thus transporting us out of a mindset where multiple murders are expected, and into a place where the events take on a nightmarish quality. Our protagonist is quite clearly racing against the clock to prove her friends’ innocence (and stop further murders), and she knows it.

Strangely, it was Grace’s unswerving loyalty to her friends that struck me as one of the stranger points of the novel. While we knew from the start that the original suspects had no hand in the murder(s), they carried secrets and motives – I feel that some doubt on our heroine’s part might have amped up the tension. Further, however much I prefer conciseness to rambling (that would be infinitely), I felt that I could have luxuriated a little longer in the potential of each suspect’s guilt before moving on to the next. However, neither of these things should stop you from picking this one up. You’ll want to catch the first in what I hope will be a series of mysteries featuring Amelia Grace!

So. If you’re a mystery fan who is tired of middle-aged female detectives, or simply a summer reader looking for a fresh take on the murder mystery, I not only recommend Stoddard’s Murder at Castle Rock, but also her later novels in the series. She hasn’t released any yet, you see, but I have a sense that we’ll all want to stick around to see what she has in store!

-M

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