This murder mystery, like all murder mysteries, begins with the evocation of what the reader understands to be its atmosphere, the accumulation of small, curated details to create a shared myth of mood, time, and place—though not all at once, of course, that is important. The writer of murder, like all writers, must be a miser, conceding revelations bit by bit; for every novel is a puzzle, and every reader a sleuth.
So begins the oddly fun whodunit West Heart Kill. As Agatha Christie taught us a century ago, a narrator needn’t be telling the reader the truth, nor must the detective himself. But surely the omniscient narrator has no ulterior motives. Right?
The story centers around a July 4th weekend at a lake surrounded by cabins and cottages all belonging to one extended family. The protagonist, Adam, is a PI hired by someone at the family gathering who is afraid they are going to be murdered. What seems like a dysfunctional 1970s family spat turns into murder and isolation in the woods of Upstate New York. A massive storm comes in, taking away electricity, the bridge, phone lines, and a way out.
Decades of caretakers had planted and pruned the wilderness to maximize the hunters’ returns, cultivating food plots with salt licks and clover and radishes for the deer, and strawberries and oats and chicory for the bears. Visitors to West Heart walking through the southern trails would often remark on what appeared to be pleasant fields of wild blueberry and currant and mint, but which were, in truth, carefully tended death traps. ~Pg 84
McDorman uses a cheeky style of inserting explanations about tropes — the closed circle, the unreliable narrator, the red herring — used by murder mysteries in the past. These winks are fun for the avid mystery reader like myself, but I do wonder if they would work for a relative newcomer.
The mystery itself is less satisfying that the journey of solving it, though that is so often the way in the genre, although this solution may have been one wink too many. Still, it is very possible to go in thinking of it as an enjoyable romp and expect nothing more. The ending is a bit of a let down amidst all the true cleverness of the previous 200 pages, though.
My thanks to Knopf for the review copy. Read via NetGalley.
Publisher: Knopf (October 24, 2023)
Hardcover: 288 pages