Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Bookfair Murders: Review

The Bookfair Murders (1997) takes place at the Frankfurt Bookfair in Germany. A real-lifepublishing convention, the Frankfurt Bookfair is the world's largest trade fair based on the number of publishing companies and visitors which frequent the convention. Agents, editors, and other publishing representative all get together to wheel and deal for international publishing and licensing rights. Big-name authors show up to make good impressions on potential buyers and to stir up media interest. There may be a few underhanded deals and agents and publishers alike may try to steal authors from one another...but no one expects someone to be murdered over a book deal.

But it looks like that's exactly what has happened. Marsha Hillier sidles up beside literary agent Andrew Myles's chair to ask him about the paperwork he's promised her on the latest Margaret Drury Carter romance novel deal. She spends several minutes chatting him up before she realizes he's never going to answer her. Someone has used the biggest, most exclusive party at the bookfair as the venue to drop a bit of poison in Andrew's drink. And pretty much everyone who knew Andrew is a suspect, for while he was the best literary agent in the business he definitely wasn't the most well-liked. To know Andrew was to hate him and Inspector Hübsch of German police force faces the tough task of narrowing down the suspects. His job is made more difficult when a publisher is found dead from the same poison and finding solid links between the two seems impossible.

The mystery won't truly be solved until Marsha returns home and she and her freelance writing friend, Judith Hayes follow the elusive romance novelist to her island hide-away. There is evidence that Andrew made a visit there earlier in the year and there are rumors that the dead publisher had claimed to have stolen the publishing rights to Carter's books from under Marsha's nose. What is the truth? And how does all this fit into the killer's motive?

Anna Porter, you had me at the title. After all, what self-respecting mystery and book lover could resist a murder mystery set at a large publishing convention in Europe? But just as you ask within your own story

...why in the name of the nine million dollars for this book alone, did she choose to run the store? The inventory-taking alone occupied the better part of chapter two. [about the latest Margaret Drury Carter plot]

why in the name of detective novels did you feel it necessary to pad your plot with the most minute, unnecessary details of the book publishing trade? We spent forever at that bookfair and learned very little about our main characters--except that they like to hop into one another's beds and make snide comments about everyone else. And why did you need to drag in the subplot of Judith Hayes, her atrocious ex-husband, and the neo-Nazis? Did that have a point? I missed it, if so. In fact, Judith is pretty much unnecessary to this story. There's no reason on earth why Marsha Hillier, our trusty editor, couldn't manage to perform Judith's part in the grand finale. Removing Judith and her entourage from the plot would have shaved about one hundred pages off this nearly four hundred page volume. 

The solution wasn't much of a surprise. And while the denouement did offer a bit of excitement (and, incidentally, the best dialogue and action of the entire book), it didn't make up for the previous three hundred pages plus. I wanted to like this one. I really did. But I can't say it was a real winner. There isn't even a real detective to follow. Inspector Hübsch pops in and out asking Marsha questions, but there isn't a lot of detective work going on in the narrative. And--while Marsha and Judith wind up discovering the killer, they don't actually behave like amateur detectives. Judith is just out for an interview with Carter so she can earn an article fee and Marsha is trying to figure out if her company really does have the exclusive rights to Carter's book. and a half.


Anonymous said...

OK, really giving this one a miss!! Thanks for the warning Bev :)

Jacquie said...

Very much like you, I always grab mystery novels set at mystery conventions or book fairs - wherever there are readers or writers gathered. The set-up is usually enough to entertain me, so it's too bad this one was so disappointing. Always love to read your reviews. Thanks!

fredamans said...

Doesn't sound like one I would like much either. Plus the cover bothers me. It feels 1947, not 1997. Great review!