A murder (or six) too many

I find Colleen McCullough a difficult author to pigeonhole. I loved her bestseller The thorn birds when I read it in my teens, I doubt I would be as enthusiastic now, but it firmly placed her in the Romance novelist category with a good dollop of family saga thrown in. Since then she's dabbled in all sorts of fields from literary to historical fiction, and more recently crime. Although it's great that she does spread herself so widely it does create some problems for her readership. Which Colleen McCullough will you encounter in this novel? And will she write as well? For that's my personal problem, since Thorn birds I've failed to finish several McCullough novels as they've just not been that well written.

Too many murders is the second in her Captain Carmine Delmonico murder mystery series (I haven't read the first yet); and is set in small town America in the late 1960's. McCullough herself worked at Yale during this period, so she knows her stuff, and the USA of the 1960s is lovingly portrayed. There is the odd strangeness, not being American herself it does lack the verisimilitude of other native writers; while some of the portrayal of British characters is also slightly odd, which occasionally makes the narrative feel a little unsure. There are also quite a lot of allusions to the backstory that formed the first volume. It's not enough to make you feel really fed up, but there is sufficient to be slightly irritating.

In general however the novel is well written, and some of the characters are well fleshed out, most notably Delmonico himself. As far as the crimes are concerned, well, yes, the novel is aptly titled - there are simply too many murders. McCullough takes a scenario that has been used by Agatha Christie, and then puts it on a 60s acid trip. It's all a bit too much; and although the ingenuity of the crimes is very clever, for this reader it all became rather gratuitous. Mixed with a hint of espionage as well, it was all a bit over the top. I felt that McCullough had simply had too many ideas, and hadn't been able or willing to prune them down. The espionage story failed to convince, as did the eventual reveal of the murderer; although there was a superb final twist in the tale which I loved - one of the best I've ever come across.

As an example of crime fiction it's not the best, but it is eminently readable and has some great moments. I'll certainly be looking out for more books in the series.


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