Laura Giebfried and Stanley R. Wells’ THE MARLOWE MURDERS starts out with a cold and bitter welcome to an isolated island off the coast of Maine, setting the scene perfectly for the infighting and brutal backstabbing of the Marlowe family. Alexandra, the protagonist and narrator, is a cool, calm, and rational voice in the storm, using her acerbic wit and sharp mind to keep herself on her feet while almost everyone else in the story does everything they can to throw her, and each other, off balance. Because the book is written in first person from her perspective, though, we get a look at the roiling emotions under her poker face, her justified anger and bitterness at being dismissed so unfairly from her studies, her insecurity and loneliness, her desperate obsession with memory and her need to care for her dementia-stricken mother. This makes her a great deal more likable, and far more sympathetic, than she appears from the outside, and our intimate knowledge of her precarious position adds to the suspense and emotional force of the story.
The family has gathered to mourn their late matriarch Sylvia, but the addition of black sheep Isidore Lennox, and Professor Marlowe’s murder, throws a wrench in the family works, and sets every member against every other, with old grudges, old crimes, and old loves and hatreds coming to light to wreak havoc. A lot of the characters are almost cartoonishly unlikeable, and the continual fighting gets wildly histrionic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to watch. Alexandra’s outsider status allows us to see the family backstories unfurl gradually, as they’re explained or revealed or accidentally stumbled-upon, and with each new revelation the suspense and the emotions build until the final resolution.
The love story is handled delicately and realistically, without it serving as a deus ex machina to rescue Alexandra from her difficult situation – she has to do that with her own wits and sense. Plot twists are fairly handled – they don’t come out of nowhere and there are clues to spot ahead of time, but they’re still exciting revelations. The astute reader will be able to piece together a good bit of the story before it’s actually revealed in full, but should still be able to enjoy the twists and turns of the tale without getting the whole picture until somewhere near the end. The epilogue offers a teasing segue into (hopefully) the next book in the series, with an intriguing taste of a new mystery. All in all, Giebfried and Wells have crafted an exciting, entertaining novel, with emotions running high throughout, that should appeal particularly to readers with a taste for family drama and/or sharp-witted, sharp-tongued, underappreciated heroines.
THE MARLOWE MURDERS is a cleverly-designed murder mystery, with a sharp, determined heroine, an entertainingly dysfunctional set of suspects, and enough suspense and plot twists to keep readers guessing until the end.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader