READ JUNE 2013
ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Dave DeVoster, star player of the University of Iowa men’s basketball team and under investigation for the rape of a member of Iowa’s women’s basketball team, is found dead at the feet of the Hawkeye mascot statue in the Herky Parade, his blood dripping from the curved beak of the famous icon. Mary Vermillion’s amateur sleuth from “Death by Discount “is back in fine form in this new adventure set in the exciting world of university athletics.”
MY REVIEW: It had been a while since I read Death by Discount the first of Mary Vermillion’s Mara Gilgannon mystery series. Recently, a comment by the author in re my review of Ellen Hart’s Hallowed Murder made me realize reading book two, Murder by Mascot was long overdue. However cliché the phrase “So many books, so little time” may be, every year its impact seems greater to me. But, as usual, I digress.
I had very much enjoyed reading the first Mara Gilgannon novel, and didn’t doubt that reading Murder by Mascot would be an equally pleasurable experience. I wasn’t disappointed at all. The plusses: Appealing, true-to-life characters; well-constructed plot — yeah, the clue to the killer’s identity is right there, but it’s really easy to miss, which I appreciate in a mystery — and when its was revealed, I had a slap-your-forehead moment; a feminist perspective, not a requirement for my reading enjoyment, but always a welcome element, if not too shrill; and, finally, a technically proficient and fluid narrative. As I final bit of chocolaty goodness, I dearly love to see deep-pocket, bigoted, homophobic pr– , sorry, insert your pejorative term of choice — get their comeuppance.
Mara, is a radio DJ in Iowa City. In book one of the series, she solves a double-murder, a tale well-known among her friends, so, when a star male Iowa hoopster is murdered, and members of the women’s b-ball team are possible suspects, their assistant coach asks the reluctant sleuth to investigate. Mara is clever, feisty, witty, loyal, and compassionate, and a dogged pursuer of a solution to the mystery. She’s maybe a teeny bit weepy at times, and still clinging to her ex after a year, however, these qualities, rather than being objectionable, help round out her character. Anyway, what’s a neurosis or two among friends?
The surrounding cast is another strong point. Mara’s gay male roommate and BFF is a hoot and a half. Maybe not as flamboyantly over-the-top as Hart’s Cordelia Thorn in the Jane Lawless series, or as delightfully exuberant as Micky Knight’s cousin Torbin in Jean Redmann’s series, but he’s damned close. The other characters, even minor ones, are adequately fleshed-out and add to the complexity of the story.
As I said, the mystery is well-plotted and plausible. There are a plethora of suspects, and Mara investigates in logical manner, eliminating them one at a time. Other plotlines: Mara’s relationship with her current girl-friend, as well as with her ex, Anne and Anne’s new partner, who just happens to be Mara’s boss; a potential new love interest for Mara, and same-sex complexities within the women’s basketball team are neatly blended so as not to detract, or distract, from the mystery. All this creates, to reuse a phrase from another of my reviews, enough dyke drama to make Ilene Chaiken jealous.
The writing itself is one of Vermillion’s biggest assets. The narrative flows smoothly and the story-telling is reminiscent of Randye Lordon or Kate Calloway, its matter-of-fact, easy-going style like a good friend or next-door neighbor telling you about an adventure she’s just experienced. Technically, there are no problems — okay, “hoards” that shoulda been “hordes”, which a copy reader should’ve fixed, but, personally, I don’t see homophonic typos as real errors. probably because I’m often guilty of them,
This has probably gone on too long, but, when I really enjoy a book, I want other people to read it, too, not just for their own pleasure, but also to support the author. A couple final comments: I found the depiction of the top-level college athletic environment extremely realistic. Recent events in Steubenville make the rape cover-up very topical.
Very highly recommend, with kudos to Ms (Dr.?, Professor?) Vermillion. And, hey, wouldn’t that name have been great in the title of one of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries. The Victim Wore Vermillion or maybe Violence In Vermillion?
One big complaint, though: There’s only one more book in the series for me to read, dammit!