3 out of 4 stars
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The Opening Night Murders is a mystery novel written by James Scott Byrnside. The plot begins when Rowan Manory, a private investigator, decides to protect an actress named Lisa Pluviam. Lisa received a death threat that stated she would be killed on the opening night of her new play, which she doesn’t want to cancel. The fated day arises, and the woman dies right in front of Rowan and several spectators. How will the detective figure out the truth behind this impossible murder?
Byrnside draws clear inspiration from detective novels written around the ’20s and ‘30s; indeed, the story even takes place in 1935. Fans of authors like Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton, and Ngaio Marsh will find themselves in good company with this book. Complicated plots, devious murderers, red herrings, and an ingenious detective all combine to form an excellent mystery that keeps the reader hooked from beginning to end.
The setting and characters feel unique and authentic. Much research has been put into making sure nothing feels out of place, even the smallest details. For example, a character talks about “hauling one’s ashes” to refer to sexual intercourse, which none of the older adults seem to understand. This reflects the fact that this expression would’ve been used mostly by young people at the time.
There are many interesting and likable characters, from the mysterious and seductive Lisa to the foul-mouthed Jenny. But the most interesting of them is Rowan, a brilliant man tormented by his physical and mental deterioration due to age. In most novels of the genre, the detective has a fixed personality, as the focus remains on the case itself. This novel, however, puts Rowan through many personal trials that make him a complex and engaging protagonist.
If you enjoy a good murder mystery, you won’t be disappointed by The Opening Night Murders’ intricate puzzles and surprising twists. The novel provides most of the clues that allow the reader to figure things out themselves, but that doesn’t make the case easy to solve. I thought I had a general idea of the solution until the mind-blowing truth was revealed and my expectations were shattered.
The book suffers from minor typographical issues: I’ve found three instances of misplaced punctuation and one instance of a missing word. The formatting is also inconsistent: some paragraphs lack an indented first line. Another issue is that long dialogue lines are written in a single paragraph, which makes the text tiresome to read. None of these problems are egregious, but they should’ve been fixed by thorough editing.
Overall, The Opening Night Murders is a great book filled with interesting characters and a thrilling plot. My only complaint is that the climax feels forced since the culprit confesses everything for no good reason. It’s a common trope in the genre, but I hoped this novel would pay homage to classic detective fiction while avoiding its pitfalls. Because of that and the editing issues, I rate the novel 3 out of 4 stars.
The novel features vulgar language, brief sexual content, and some grotesque imagery, so I don’t recommend it to young readers. Also, you’ll want to look elsewhere if you prefer hard-boiled crime stories with gritty realism. But if you don’t mind fanciful mystery plots that require some suspension of disbelief, this should be a fun read.
The Opening Night Murders
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