Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon
From award-winning male/male author Josh Lanyon: a librarian finds himself in a plot right out of one of his favorite mystery novels.
Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.
Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.
Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. As the unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst—but who?
Length – 60k
Cover – Perfect!
POV – 1st person, one character
Would I read it again – Yes!
Genre – LGBT, Murder Mystery, Crime, Romance, Adventure
Triggers – historical murder, contemporary murder, brief violence
** COPY RECEIVED THROUGH NETGALLEY **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
This is my first book by Josh Lanyon, only because I'm constantly prioritizing my review books over those I've bought for myself. I'll be bumping those books up on my priority list, after this.
Now, just an FYI – I've watched every episode of Midsomer Murders, CSI: Vegas, Murder She Wrote, Columbo, Vera, everything Agatha Christie. I've read every Sherlock Holmes, historical mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. I've watched more true crime shows than I can count. I generally – about 85% of the time – get it right. Be forewarned, that I went into this hoping it would be a mystery and it was. I still figured out who the killer was before the halfway mark, but I hadn't quite figured out all of the who or the why. And I can say that I was thoroughly impressed by how it was all put together, how it was laid out, when it all came together, and the final big reveal. It was a brilliantly done mystery, by someone who lives them every day vicariously through TV and books.
The main character, who provides the POV, is Carter – and he's everything I could have wanted in a main character. He's a librarian, so has a vast wealth of knowledge on multiple subjects; he's a murder mystery buff, who loves the books that the tour follows, so knows what signs to look for; he's smart, instinctive, and just logical enough to second guess the more ludicrous ideas, the question everything, even himself, and to provide all the snarky I could want in a disillusioned romantic.
I love that the recent break up of Carter and Trevor wasn't just glossed over, but was a pivotal used throughout the book, adding distractions, an extra air of mystery, and another suspect that he kept a naturally close eye on. I also love how it played into Carter's mindset – he was instantly doubtful of his feelings and thoughts, because he'd just discovered that he'd been wrong about Trevor for years.
The rest of the cast were brilliantly written, and not shoved to the side as some secondary characters can be. They all had their part to play. From the manipulative and myster-buffs Rose and Sally, to the enigmatic Ben and his mother, Yvonne, the constantly-disappearing and mysterious John. There were the secretive foursome of teachers who knew each other before the tour, Trevor and his new boyfriend, secret-keeper Alison who was the tour guide, and the understated pairing of Nedda and her husband Wally, and finally the assistant Elizabeth. All of whom could easily have been in on the plan.
The vast array of characters made for interesting reading, a lot of speculation, and a lot of innocent innocuous goings on that might not mean anything at the time, but couldn't be important later. Which is exactly what you want in a mystery; lots of suspects, lots of potential clues, and lots of intrigue.
I love that the tour bus of people – Tours to Die For – were recommended to sit with a different person for each meal, despite having a stable room mate. It meant that Carter could get to know everyone independently, without it feeling forced or too coincidental. I also love that they were all massive fans of the fictional author, Vanessa, which meant they often discussed her, her history, and her works, which allows us readers to get a deeper feel for the person who had brought them all together. I loved the amount of detail that was put into Vanessa's character and how it wove the plot together.
Being Scottish – half Edinburgh area and half Glasgow area, and a regularly holiday-goer to Argyll and Bute – I was worried that I'd read this book and be bogged down by the horrible inaccuracies that are so often made. I've read books written by non-Scottish people that focus far too heavily on the stereotypical, even going so far as to write the accent, which becomes tedious, especially when done wrong. This one didn't even make me stop to consider the acurateness – everything was recognisable, relatable, understandable and as far from stereotypical as possible. The author really did their research (as explained at the end, by a real life tour of Scotland) and made it possible to feel like we, the reader, were taking the tour along with the characters. There was a perfect amount of attention to detail, description, and scenery that made it possible to follow the dips and flows of even the briefest tourist stop. It was an added benefit that the author chose to show it all from an American tourists POV, accounting for the strange and unknown, the unpronounceable or non-understandable, without making it sound or feel stereotypical or insulting.
I'm not going to say too much about the plot, because there's a lot I can't say without ruining it for anyone about to read it. And you all should. It's great fun, with suspense and intrigue all throughout, a dash of romance, drama and mystery laced in between. The romance is a slow-burn, but also insta-love in some ways. I loved how it was done – slowly easing from strangers to acquaintances, then moving Carter and his beau through circumstances that bring them closer and closer. Despite how short the actual time is between strangers to lovers, the progression feels natural and Carter is smart enough to question it, his beau is smart enough to question whether it's just a rebound. It's natural and relatable.
What I can say is that I loved Carter from the get-go. He was brilliantly sceptical and curious. I liked that he used his librarian resources and instinct, logical reasoning, and didn't become the stereotypical busybody shoving his way into everyone's business, while trying to solve a crime all by himself. He was basically dragged into the position of crime-solver, reluctantly, so, and did it because his curiosity wouldn't let go, which was great. I loved that people naturally gravitated towards him, because everyone knew his motive for being on the trip from the first day, and he was a source of safety and security to the others, in a sea of strangers they couldn't trust.
It was also really nice to see that the cast weren't your stereotypical 20-something stud-boys. These were real men, with all characters 40+. Carter mentions that he's forty and probably the youngest of the tour, but you never really know the actual ages of everyone else involved, but it's suggested that they at least 60+, especially when the possibility of one of them dying naturally while on the tour is presented. At times, I often forgot that fact, because they were all spritely and well written characters, not your typical cranky old men or women with zimmers. These were realistic men and women in their later years, who were just like anyone else's mum or dad, gran or grandad.
This was a roller coaster of classic murder mystery who-dun-it. Full of twists, turns, and misdirects, it can stand up there with some of the best in the genre. I can't wait to read more.
There were a lot of great one-liners in this book, which made it even more enjoyable.
““Was that or was it not a sinister look?” I whispered to John.
“I can't tell. She always looks that way to me. If she had fangs, she'd have bared them at you. That I can confirm.”
“He broke off as the sound of a gong reverberated from below. “What the hell was that?”
“The dinner gong, you barbarian.”
“The dinner gong? That sounded like we just declared war.”