Carniville by J.R. McLemore
Carniville by J.R. McLemore is a murder mystery centering around a unique cast of carnival oddities living together in an apartment complex. When one of the tenants is murdered in a room with locked doors and only one other person, the police believe they have the case completely wrapped up. Blake Stanwick, a carny with uncontrolled psychic visions, thinks they have the wrong man and he opens up his own investigation. With the help of some friends, Blake plans to make sure the real murderer is found before it’s too late.
While I love all genres, I have a particular fondness for murder mysteries, so I was happy to have this book for my first review.
It was clear when I began reading that the style of writing was very conversational. It’s written in first person and I think it worked well for this novel, as well as the voice of the main character, Blake.
I did find that the novel starts out slow, setting the scene and describing all of the characters in detail (I’ll get to that in a moment). It picked up a bit after the murder, but this is by no means an ‘action packed’ mystery, so don’t come here for thrills and chills. It’s a mystery of the cozy variety that focuses more on the characters and their motives than anything else.
On the topic of characters, I did like the cast that McLemore wrote. While they were all considered ‘sideshow acts’, they read like the regular people they are, which I appreciated. I think the introduction of the characters could have been done better as they’re all introduced and described one after the other in the first chapter rather than spread out. This made it hard to remember most of them and I found myself having to refer back to my notes in order to remember which name belonged to which character (especially with Roger/Ricky and Denise/Donna). After a while, it does get easier to place the names with the characters as McLemore seems to give them all equal mention.
The fact that they were all given similar amounts of time in the book aided in the mystery. While I was pretty sure I knew who the culprit was early on (I was right! I knew all of those hours pretending to be Nancy Drew as a child would eventually pay off…), there were plenty of moments where my opinion wavered because there was more than one likely suspect. The one thing about reading murder mysteries in first person is that it is so easy to be influenced and misdirected by the thoughts of the main character, and McLemore did do that very well and often.
My only big negative about the novel (and the reason it has such a low plot rating) is that I felt the element of ‘visions’ added nothing to the plot. While I do enjoy paranormal elements in novels, in this case it just wasn’t necessary and often times felt like a side thought. McLemore could have easily left that aspect out with no adverse effect to the plot. In fact, it probably would have improved the plot as I more than once completely forgot about Blake’s ‘gift’, only to have it appear suddenly. What’s more, he usually ignored the visions in order to wait for a more decent hour to tell someone, or just didn’t mention them again until they actually happened in the novel.
That being said, it was certainly not a bad novel. I found it a very easy and relaxing read which was a nice break from a hectic schedule.
Overall, I would give this a solid 3/5.
Entertainment Value: 3.5/5
Average Overall Rating: 3.17/5
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