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Friday, May 30, 2014

What I’m Reading: The Outsmarting of Criminals

Reviews keep coming...

Earlier this month I read the first book in a new cozy series, The Outsmarting of Criminals: A Mystery featuring Miss Felicity Prim by Steven Rigolosi

I placed this book on hold immediately after reading this review in Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ After being mugged in New York City, Miss Felicity Prim plans to embark on a new career: "criminaloutsmarting." She is going to do it the cozy way by moving to a small hamlet in Connecticut, where she'll buy a cottage with a garden. All this in Chapter 1! The staff of the doctor's office where she works is distraught when Felicity announces her resignation, especially the doctor, who wants to marry her. She'll have none of this until she tries her new venture, though. Investigating as a concept gets decidedly real when a corpse turns up in her basement (a secret basement, by the way). Det. Ezra Dawes and his team make a valiant effort to keep up with Felicity. Concurrently, Felicity and her sister learn they have a secret half-sister, and thus she has a second case to solve. Mercy! VERDICT This title had me at the cover—all done in Edward Gorey style. The tongue-in-cheek humor Rigolosi showed in his earlier work (Androgynous Murder House Party ) is key to this pitch-perfect mash-up of the greatest traditional/cozy mystery tropes. Similar in tone to Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series although with a contemporary setting; a pleasure from cover to cover. --Teresa L. Jacobsen (Reviewed March 1, 2014) (Library Journal, vol 139, issue 4, p74)
Between my love of books about books, the fact that I am leading the ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study, AND that I had just led our 2 hour discussion on cozies a few weeks before, this book was exactly what I needed.

You get the plot and some of the appeal from the review, but let me talk a bit more about WHY someone would enjoy this book.  First, it is adorable.  If you like reading and are someone who gets caught up in books on a regular basis, I mean so caught up in the characters that you forget they ARE NOT REAL [you know you’ve done it]-- this is the book for you.  Felicity is that kind of reader of mystery novels, especially the classics.  But you don’t have to love mysteries to enjoy this series.  Rather, it is that “getting caught up” in a book aspect that is shared here.

This is a mystery about a reader and the books she loves first and foremost. But, it is also a "wink, wink" parody of mystery novels, their plots, and the eccentric characters who live on the small towns of cozy mysteries.  The official term for this type of book about books where the reader is in on the joke is technically called metafiction. In terms of appeal what that  term means is that you, the reader, should expect to have a fun romp in an endearing, engaging, and witty book about a love of books and reading.  The reader is in on all of the jokes, we crave the next plot twist ripped from the classic cannon of mystery fiction, and we can’t wait for what’s still to come.

Now many may find this piling on of all of the inside jokes a bit much.  Not me though.  Warn people that it is an exaggerated, adorable, send up and they can decide if they are interested for themselves. This is a book for which someone’s enjoyment will be highly dependent upon their expectations and mood as they read it.

But it is not all puns and inside jokes.  Rigolosi is a good writer. An example can be seen in his brilliant, “show don’t tell” portrayal of Felicity’s terrible driving. That bit of writing skill is worth reading the book.  It is a great running gag but done in an understated way that I really enjoyed.

The Outsmarting of Criminals is a fast paced, fun, page turner. It is a perfect summer read for all book lovers. And don’t blame me if after you finish the novel you too are thinking about leaving the rat race behind and becoming a cozy amateur detective yourself. Just make sure to buy a house that comes with its very own secret basement.

Three Words That Describe This Book: adorable, witty, eccentric characters 

Readalikes: This series takes everything I love about Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series and Hall’s Vish Puri series and smooshes [I know, not an actual word] them together.  Click here for more on Flavia and here for more on Puri including dozens more readalike options.

But really anything on the ARRT crime fiction genre study list from the April Meeting of Amateur, Cozy, and Humorous mysteries will work as a suggestion here.

This series also reminded me of a backlist, harder to find British mystery series that also is a parody of mystery novels by L.C. Tyler and beginning with The Herring Seller’s Apprentice.  Here is the link to my review of that book and here is the link to the Goodreads info on the whole series.

And finally, the best series for people who love books, reading, and metafiction is Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. I think it should be required reading for book lovers.

More reviews coming over the weekend [especially since I took yesterday off from posting].

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