2 out of 4 stars
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Houseboat Row by J. P. Sheehan has all the elements that should be included in a high-speed murder mystery. Hidden underneath the tourist veneer of the Key West islands, bodies are piling up. Bud Roth, former New York City detective, gets involved when his sweetheart's son is accused of murder. Can Bud clear the name of a drug-dealing thief? What is the connection between an exotic dancer and a homeless man? Can a cold murder case be linked to present-day murders? Who is the shadow man pulling the strings, and what is his motive? If Bud can manage not to tick off the local police too badly as well as survive being kidnapped and left for dead, he might put the clues together and solve the mystery.
On the one hand, Houseboat Row should be an easy read. At first blush, it seems like the perfect novel to bring to the beach. However, I found several blockers to true enjoyment. First, the author included so many characters, that I never was able to keep them all straight. From the local authorities to the myriad of pub owners and pub frequenters, my head was spinning. In the middle of all that, the main character got on my nerves. One of his main interrogation techniques was to get someone drunk so that the information would flow easily. Unfortunately, Bud didn't count on himself becoming so drunk that he could not remember a single bit of information the next day. This happened more than once. I don't mind a confident character who is comfortable in his own skin, but Bud was over-confident to the point of being cocky. He often mocked those he felt to be inferior to himself.
Another issue was the overall pace of the book. A huge portion of the book was devoted to finding clues. However, the clues rarely seemed to help the detective out. When the loose ends finally did start coming together, it felt somewhat like a data dump. At times, the book was exciting and hard to put down, but other times it seemed to drag a bit. I also felt that the author could have developed the characters to a greater degree. The main character is drawn fairly well, but his sweetheart seemed to just appear now and again and be worried about her no-good son. She did not feel relatable to me. Most of the other characters were the same. Even the girl whose murder spurred the investigation did not feel realistic, despite all the descriptions given of her by those who knew her in life.
On a more positive note, the author definitely has developed a good plot line. The mystery truly is difficult. Throughout the book, it was impossible for me to decide "who done it." I did not see the ending coming! Although unexpected, the author wrapped up the book perfectly.
The characters used a lot of colorful language, which was probably meant to make them more realistic, but causes me to hesitate in recommending the book to a younger audience. An additional problem with recommending the book is an emphasis on who had sex with who. While this emphasis was important to the overall plot, it causes me to feel this is geared more toward an adult audience.
I also felt that this book was not professionally edited. I found a number of spelling and grammar errors throughout. If you can overlook an uneven pace, underdeveloped characters, and sketchy editing for the sake of a murder mystery, you may enjoy this book. For me, I would rate it 2 out of 4 stars.
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