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Reviewers typically shudder at the prospect of taking on a self-published novel. While the quality of works from established publishing houses may be uneven at best, it’s a hundred times better on average than that of so-called vanity publishing projects, which rush into print anyone who can afford to pay for the privilege.
Yet every now and then an important writer makes a breakthrough thanks to self-publication early in his or her career. The history of this long tradition includes names like John Milton, Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe. Will Toronto writer Leslie Bendaly join this legion of success? Her first novel, Deadly Mementos, available through the iUniverse "supported self-publishing" service, is indeed a pretty good mystery.
In fact, it’s as competently and assuredly written as most crime fiction I’ve read over the past couple of years. Divorced management consultant Sara Porter is trying to solve a small personal mystery: what’s the meaning of the box of fading memorabilia willed to her by her recently deceased aunt? Something to do with a judge her aunt had been involved with, who had also just died, and an unsolved murder from their youth in the 1940s. But in trying to sort out the message her aunt had bequeathed her, Sara becomes a prime suspect in a current murder investigation.
Enter divorced detective Keith Carson, who needs to crack the case to salvage his career, spiting his detractors in Toronto police department politics. As bodies pile up, the two are brought together in dual common cause—trying to prevent Sara from being arrested while connecting and solving both the cold case and present-day killings.
So the mystery’s not really a whodunit, as we know it wasn’t Sara who dun it and, besides, the precise identity of the perpetrator is not all that important. The mystery is really how all the past and present incidents hang together. And will our sleuths figure it all out before the cuffs are slapped on Sara?
We get answers to these questions of course but, as with most successful crime fiction, the personal stories of the main figures are also advanced, without getting in the way of the main story. And—thanks for small mercies—Bendaly actually wraps up all loose narrative ends with a series of conclusions that satisfy and still leave room for development in the next Keith Carson and Sara Porter mystery. (You can get a taste of that with a sneak preview on the author’s website.)
All right, Bendaly is not likely to become the next Twain or Poe. Nor even the next Agatha Christie or P.D. James. Deadly Mementos is not nearly that good. But it is a better-than-average first mystery and promises many good reads to come.