Book Review: Big Top Chautauqua murder mystery a letdownDespite using nearby Big Top Chautauqua as its prime location, Pat Ondarko and Deb Lewis’ murder mystery “Too Much at Stake” reads like a children’s chapter book.
By: Elizabeth Reichert, Budgeteer News
Ever wanted to read about local happenings — places that you’ve been to and can say, “I stood where that murder scene took place!”? If you answered yes, then this book is for you. “Too Much at Stake,” the second novel in the Best Friends Series by Pat Ondarko and Deb Lewis, takes place at Big Top Chautauqua. Know it? I bet you do.
With a setting that’s familiar, you can really immerse yourself; the local setting was very refreshing. It’s rare that I pick up a book where I know from personal experience what the characters are talking about and where they are. Being able to mentally sit myself in Bayfield, Wis., with them was easy and delightful.
I’ll admit, though, that it’s been awhile since I wanted to put down a book and not finish it because of its poor writing style. But “Too Much at Stake” brought that tendency out. While I loved the premise of the book, its words just didn’t engage me. I never felt as if I could truly believe the story: Descriptions were bland, the dialogue was stiff and the two main characters were too cheerful — annoyingly cheerful.
Even after they discovered the corpse, our two main characters, Pat and Deb, didn’t seem rattled. They said that they were unnerved by it, and spoke about it to other characters, but I never felt as if they truly were. They sure didn’t act like it. Instead, they just carried about with their daily business only giving it a second thought when someone brought up the subject.
I can’t fault the characters for being too cheerful, though. They may very well be like that in real life, since they’re based off of the authors. And who knows, maybe they’re just that type of person who’s happy all the time. If that annoys me in life and in books, I guess that’s just something that I, and perhaps you, too, have to get over.
Overall, the book does have some redeeming qualities, however.
Along with the wonderful choice of locale, the intriguing plot made the amateurish writing more than bearable. Pat and Deb, cheerfully volunteering at the Big Top Chautauqua, come across a corpse — from the previous autumn, no less. Although told to stay out of the investigation, the two women find themselves examining the case for themselves as friends and colleagues ask them to probe. Pat and Deb don’t even want to consider the fact that it could be a friend who did the killing, but in a town as small as Bayfield, there isn’t much of a chance that it was a stranger. As we follow them through their explorations of small-town Wisconsin, we’re guessing along with them as to who the murderer is.
So, what’s my advice? Try it out. Although the writing at times is reminiscent of a children’s chapter book, “Too Much at Stake” has a unique plot that will captivate you and give you a yearning to read the first book in the series, if you haven’t already. Read it for yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.
Twin Ports book review Elizabeth Reichert can be reached by clicking on her byline above.
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