Review: The Ten Commandments of Murder by David Breitenbeck
“A house of many sins is a house of many motives.”
A dinner party ends in murder, and young Alfred More is on the hook for the crime. The problem is, he didn’t do it. He is such an unlikely suspect that, despite the circumstantial evidence, even the detective in charge of the investigation cannot believe he pulled the trigger.
But if he didn’t do it, who did? More importantly, how is Alfred going to prove his innocence before he goes up the river for life – or is convicted and sentenced to death?
It begins on Easter morning. Alfred is headed home from the Easter service with his half-brother, Jonathan, who is twenty years his senior. With them is Jonathan’s son and Alfred’s nephew, Charles, who is much closer to his uncle in age and character than to his father, who would give Ebenezer Scrooge a run for his money as a skinflint. Having inherited the railroad company which his and Alfred’s father built, Jonathan lets the work there eat up almost all of his time, berating his apparently indolent son for idleness whenever the two are together too long.
Charles does not do much to dispel this image he projects when he needles his uncle about his crush. Alfred generally gets along well with his nephew, but the reminder that his crush Violet is married to the incontinent Nathan Gale annoys and embarrasses him. While Gale does not physically mistreat his wife, he makes it blatantly clear that he does not respect her, either.
At the dinner party that night, when Gale openly insults his wife, Alfred tries to defend her honor. It backfires and Gale has the better of the battle of wits, leading the irate young man to burst out: “If there were any justice in the world, you’d be murdered in your bed tonight!”
That night, Gale is murdered in his bed. Hearing what sounds like a shot, Alfred gets up to investigate and finds himself holding the murder weapon as the other residents of the household come to see what has happened. The police are called and, between witness testimony and the fact that his prints are now on the gun, Alfred is in a bind.
Having pity on him, the lead detective gives Alfred the name of a private detective who used to work for the police: Malachi Burke. Upon hearing Alfred out, Burke takes the case but insists that his employer shadow him as he does his work. It is his life on the line, after all. Shouldn’t he see that he is getting his money’s worth?
Intrigue and confusion dog the duo as they seek the truth amidst the lies. For, as Burke points out, everyone lies, if only a little. What matters is to find the lie hiding the murderer before Alfred is arrested and sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit!
Alfred is a charming point-of-view character, something like Conan Doyle’s Watson crossed with Perry Mason’s partner, Paul Drake. He lags behind Burke in making deductions and connections, but since he is not the detective (yet), that is hardly an issue. The fact that he is a listless young man with no profession upon which to hang his hat and too many disparate options to choose from makes him stand out from similar detectives’ attachés. Money really cannot buy you everything, and Alfred’s search for purpose is a large part of his arc in this tale.
Malachi Burke is a friendly cross between Nero Wolfe and Perry Mason. Although he does not get into a physical altercation with any of the suspects, his general size and impressive manner makes even the reader wince at the idea of crossing him. His rough-and-tumble Irish preparation for trouble contrasts and accentuates his keen mind, making him a detective the reader will enjoy following to see how he solves the case.
Imagine Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Erle Stanley Gardener got together to write a murder mystery in turn-of-the-century Long Island, and you have the world. Change and upheaval is in the air, sending shadows and smoke swirling throughout society. Somewhere within those currents murder has been perpetrated, and it is up to the heroes to find and nab the killer. Nothing better for a cozy mystery than to know that the murderer is going to get caught in the spotlight, whether he likes it or not!
None. It is a good, old fashioned cozy mystery. Politics would only slow it down.
There is a dead body, of course, but it is not described graphically. Mentions of sexual infidelity are treated just as gently, so this is a book any mature tween or teen could read with ease.
Who is it for?
Fans of Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, and Arthur Conan Doyle will love this work. Everything that made their stories entertaining appears here without being a paint-by-numbers reprint. The story and the characters are new, fresh, and engaging while at the same time paying homage to the masters in the genre. Anyone who liked these authors’ works will enjoy this book.
Why read it?
It’s a perfect cozy mystery for long winter nights. Why not pick it up for the mystery lover in your life, or to keep you entertained in the cold hours after the sun goes down?
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