Has anyone ever read a book and had such a vastly different opinion of it than other people, you wonder if you even read the same book? That was me with On Borrowed Crime by Kate Young. I really did not like this, and my ARC e-copy was so poorly formatted I almost didn’t get through it. So, I am writing this review and offering two grains of salt: (1) My personal feelings of this book are apparently not the norm; and (2) while I am going to try and confine the review to the contents and not the lack of editing, my bias may come through. I would also, of course, like the thank Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for this opportunity.
From the Publisher:
The Jane Doe book club enjoys guessing whodunit, but when murder happens in their midst, they discover solving crimes isn’t fun and games…
Lyla Moody loves her sleepy little town of Sweet Mountain, Georgia. She likes her job as receptionist for her uncle’s private investigative firm, her fellow true crime obsessed Jane Doe members are the friends she’s always wanted, and her parents just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. But recently, with her best friend Melanie on vacation, and her ex-boyfriend and horrible cousin becoming an item and moving in next door to her, her idyllic life is on the fritz. The cherry on top of it all is finding Carol, a member of the club, dead and shoved into a suitcase, left at Lyla’s front door.
Unusual circumstances notwithstanding, with Carol’s heart condition, the coroner rules Carol’s death undetermined. But when they discover the suitcase belongs to Melanie, who had returned from her vacation the following morning, Sweet Mountain police begin to suspect Lyla’s best friend. Determined that police are following the wrong trail, to clear her friend’s name, and to not allow Carol to become one of the club’s studied cold cases, Lyla begins to seek out the real killer. That is, until she becomes the one sought after. Now, finding the truth could turn her into the killer’s next plot twist, unless she wins the game of cat and mouse.
What I Enjoyed:
I am prefacing this by saying, not much about this book delighted me. There were some redeeming elements that I will discuss below, but they all have caveats.
- The Premise. Honestly, the premise is what drew me in and kept me reading until the end. A group of six or so women who are all interested in reading murder mystery novels and delve into unsolved real life murder mysteries. They are sort of considered outcasts in their community (the US south sounds like a miserable place to live, to be honest), but these women have forged a strong bond amongst themselves. Lyla is the de facto leader, since she is a career PI. On its face, and even at some moments in the text, this is a great premise. The Jane Does seem like a great group of women you would want to be a part of.
- Lyla’s budding feminism. Lyla is not generally a likeable character in my opinion – she is “fake tough” in that she acts independent and of her age, but at the first sign of struggle she runs to her parents, her uncle, or her ex. However, she shows the most promise when she is “raging against the machine”; that is, the southern obsession with women making babies and staying at home, just as Lyla’s mother would like for Lyla to be. Throughout On Borrowed Crime, Lyla makes a point of explaining why her career choice is valid and does not make her less of a woman, but also explains that stay at home motherhood is an equally valid option for other women. She nicely balances wearing makeup and nice clothes with maintaining her professionalism and strong persona. I think this balance would appeal to a lot of readers, particularly women that read a lot of cozies.
What I Disliked:
- The Mystery. I know, this is shocking. It sounds so intriguing – Lyla’s friend Carol goes missing, and Lyla finds her dead in a suitcase in her living room. The police are not investigating vigorously as a murder, and the Jane Does end up looking into the case. Sounds great – except that I solved it. When I tell you I never ever solve these, I am not being modest. Part of why I love mysteries is because I am always surprised. And yet, here Kate Young is throwing in a million red herrings, with everyone crooked as all hell and more than one person desiring her dead, and yet the actual killer was staring at you like a sore thumb. I was not impressed to figure out the murderer within a few chapters, and the big reveal felt weak.
- The Soap-Operaesque Southerness. There is a mouthful. Every single character in On Borrowed Crime was ridiculously over the top and southern. Lyla’s parents think her obsession with crime so abnormal and repulsive they sent her to a shrink because “what would the neighbors think”; one of the Jane Does quit citing how it looks bad to be into crime and started vicious rumors about the gang; everyone is obsessed with putting on their makeup and clutching literal and metaphorical pearls (the mother actually clutches her pearls on multiple occasions) at the slightest form of scandal. Even Lyla, the feminist of the town, judged women based on how well their makeup matched their skin tone. Men are only gentlemen if they act like the women are fragile flowers, everyone is yelled at for cursing, and people gossip at funerals. Also, the accents are palpable through the page (Excessive use of ‘My Stars!’ stands out). Everyone also has some tragic backstory that are treated like skeletons in the closet (or bodies in the suitcase I suppose). Maybe this is because I am a “Yank,” but I found the whole thing overdone, obnoxious, and distracting from the mystery.
- General language issues. I am not spending much time on this, because again, this is an ARC and these things can be edited. However, there were enough uncomfortable turns of phrase that seemed intentional to bring up. It is like Lyla’s first person POV is a semi-stream of consciousness, and the prose portions are as colloquial as the speech patterns. This may appeal to some readers, and probably especially cozy readers, but I found it pretty hard to get through and it created awkward pacing.
I will admit, as far as cozies go, this was not my cup of (sweet) tea. The southern setting was overbearing, the characters all seemed like caricatures of upper class southern people, and the mystery was a breeze. However, I know for a fact from other reviews that this appealed to a lot of other cozy readers, probably specifically for Lyla the strong sleuth and the bond of friendship seen in the Jane Doe book club. The references to other mystery books was also particularly appealing. This is three waves from me, mostly because my own views on it overshadowed my enjoyment of this from a cozy reviewing standpoint. Check it out here and here; pre-order now for a lovely October read!