Death by Misfortune

Title: Death by Misfortune
Author: AM Riley
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: Murder Mystery
Length: Novel (343 pages/89000+ words)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5


A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn

One Sentence Review: A well-written, complex murder mystery that left me guessing and scrambling to find more by this new-to-me author.

THE BLURB

After a glamorous studio party, “Psychic to the Stars” Sylvie Black is found murdered in her fortune telling booth, a blood soaked tarot reading spread out before her. Shortly afterwards, the high-profile director who was about to produce Ms. Black’s ‘tell-all’ Hollywood screenplay, is found murdered as well. Closeted Homicide detective, Bill Turner, and his partner, Kate Crandall, find themselves sorting through a cast of likely suspects, who all seem to have secrets worth killing for. They soon run up against the studio rumor mill, and Jeremy Reilly, a young studio AD determined to protect their prime suspect.

THE REVIEW

Death by Misfortune is the first book by this author that I’ve read and I have to say I am hooked. Where the hell have I been that I didn’t know what a talent she is? Well-written and -plotted with a quick pace, I was engrossed, and if all of her books are like this, I’ll be reading her backlist — minus the paranormals and creature-features, that is, ‘cause you all know that ain’t my thang 🙂 — as soon as I get my little hands on them. DbM is book two in her Bill Turner Case Book series, book one being Amor En Retrogrado (reviewed by Jenre here), and features, among a very large and colorful cast, closeted LAPD homicide detective, Bill Turner, and his partner, Kate Crandall. I did not know this was a part of a series when I took it on for review (the blurb on the MLR site doesn’t mention it’s part of a series), and I while can say with certainty that you needn’t read AER to enjoy this one, there were a few times where I found myself feeling like I was missing a little something when it came to Bill’s relationships with partner Kate and boyfriend Christopher. I do intend to go back and pick up AER to catch what I missed.

Set in the seemingly insane world of the Hollywood film industry, the story opens the morning after a large cast and crew party, at which a celebrity psychic was providing tarot card readings and fortunes. Everyone is scrambling to get to work as the filming must move forward if it is to come anywhere close to making budget. In another part of town, LAPD homicide detective Lieutenant Bill Turner and his partner Kate are called to the scene of a gruesome murder of said psychic, where they also find she had written a Hollywood tell-all book that could prove to be part of the motive. The next day, the famous director in charge of the film disappears, only to turn up murdered as well. When they try to investigate, they run up against obstacles from all angles, including experienced actors, nosy media, lies and rumors. In the middle of this is Jeremy, the assistant to the assistant director Beckett, who wants nothing more than to protect the fragile man who has been his mentor and new lover.

This book pretty much grabs you from the beginning as we are transported with Jeremy to the set of a film being made.  I can’t speak to the authenticity of the “dirty world of filmmaking,” but I understand that the author knows her stuff and it all seemed disappointingly real. I mean that if all that goes on in the book really happens, well, it’s just sad. Long, long hours, screaming people, giant egos, running on caffeine and other stimulating substances, everyone sleeping with everyone else, backstabbing and gossiping (X said that Y said that Z heard A say that B slept with C — oy!) seem to be how the life is lived “dahn sahth” in LA, as we would say in Pittsburgh, and I’m really glad I am not in the industry.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of: cops and media and spouses and lawyers and agents and a bazillion movie people. Especially in the beginning you really need to pay attention because it’s very easy to get confused. Note that although the recurring characters are Bill, Kate and Christopher, they actually play a lesser role than I would have expected now that I know this is a series.

Riley sure can pen the flawed characters, and I think that’s one of the strengths of the story. So many of the cast have issues — and not small ones, at that — that I created a spreadsheet in my head so I could remember which problems went with which characters.  🙂 Alcoholism, drug addiction, control freaks, loose sexual morals, anger management issues, conscious lying, unrequited lust, jealousy, coveting thy co-worker’s everything, closet [fill in the blank], workaholics and bad taste all vying for page time. Additionally, the majority of the relationships — working and romantic — seemed incredibly dysfunctional. I couldn’t help but be both fascinated and saddened about human behavior while reading this story: cynicism is the overall feeling, lying perfectly acceptable, backstabbing commonplace, gossip expected.

The character with probably the most on-page time and narration is Jeremy, Becket’s assistant who wants to be so much more and who does not-so-great and misguided things in an effort to protect the other man. A self-described control freak who was orphaned at eighteen when his alcoholic father died, he is smart, clever and very capable in his job for his age. I tried not to like him, but I couldn’t help but doing exactly that as the story progressed. Part of what he does is because of his unhappy past, part in wanting to impress Becket, part in wanting to get into the man’s pants, part in loyalty to Becket and the studio, and part just being a caring person for Becket. I found myself feeling sorry for him and, yes, ultimately liking him and rooting for him and Becket.

I had trouble remembering that Becket was only thirty-five as he seemed at least a decade older through much of the story the way be behaved and came across. One of the actors on the movie called him “tragic and romantic,” and I’d have to agree. I’d also add fragile, lost and in need of psychiatric help.

I found Bill to be an enigma. After reading this book, I feel I know very little about him other than he is an alcoholic, closeted, dates a teacher named Christopher who he doesn’t treat very well, smokes like a chimney, has a nearly one-hundred-percent solve rate (except one case that he often thinks about) and a strong admiration for his partner, Kate. My problem is that while we do learn these things, we don’t know much about what is running through his head; we often see his actions, but we don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know if there’s more backstory available in AER, but reading Jen’s review makes it sound like there isn’t. Maybe we’ll learn more as the series goes on. Jen said that his and Christopher’s relationship in that book was painful to watch and here it is the same. I am not sure what the understanding and kind Christopher sees in the emotionally closed-off and at-times difficult Bill, but there are some strides made in the right direction in this book. I felt some hope for them at the end.

Regarding the mystery element, there are a whole slew of suspects and red herrings abound, and the complexity left me guessing until just before the reveal. I suspected several people, and as they were proven innocent — or murdered! — I was like “Crap, I was sure it was him/her!”

My single niggle — and it’s not enough for me to drop the rating — is that the majority of the time we get Bill and Jeremy’s POVs, but every so often we are given access into the minds of a few other characters, often just thrown in with no delineation between it and the POV of the other character. Or, the first few paras of a section would be Jeremy’s POV, then unexpectedly switch over to Bill’s. This occasional headhopping was jarring and drew me out of the story of a moment.

OVERALL

A wonderful offering from a new-to-me author that has me now going out to collect other of her works.  Highly recommended to mystery readers.

Dianne T.
Ok, this is going to be long! As I had not yet read AeR, I read it immediately before reading DBM. Luckily as a reader of this site, I knew these two were a series. Once I started each of these stories someone had to pry my Kindle out of my hands ;-). Thought the plot of AeR was extremely engaging and unique, as were the characters. I really enjoyed having a plot that spanned many years, where the reader was privy to the beginning, “middle”, end and re-birth of a relationship. Robert and JD were wonderful to get to… Read more »
Nicci

I recently finished AER and and Elegant Corpse. Loved both books. My fav is AER. AM Riley sure can write deeply flawed characters and wonderful mysteries. So glad to see Bill Turner has his own story.

jw

This title & cover are so familiar I thought I had already read it. Maybe it was it on MLR’s coming soon page for a long time. Glad I read the review & comments to know it’s actually new. Anyway, I loved AeR so I will definitely be getting this one.

Jenre

This is what happens when I forget to tick the box which notifies me of follow up comments!

Lynn: I quite like BDSM books, and The Elegant Corpse does delve quite deeply into the emotions and psyche of those who practise it. I don’t think the actual scenes themselves were too heavy going, but I read quite a lot of BDSM so maybe I’m not really the best judge of that!

For me the pleasure was in seeing the main characters dance around each other and find a comfortable role within the relationship.

Cole

Lynn, I haven’t read any books by AM yet either, though I recently bought AeR and have been gearing myself up for it. This makes me want to start the series even sooner so I can get to DbyM.

I’m really excited about it now!

Aunt Lynn

I am going to start AeR this weekend, I think. We should read it together and chat about it on Jen’s review post after?

Cole

Lets do it. I’ll probably start it on Friday and then read to my heart’s content. It’ll be interesting since you’ve read the sequel and I haven’t…

Sirius

Wave, you have not read anything else by this writer yet? OMG grab her books now NOW NOW 🙂

Great review and if I am not winning this one 🙂 I am purchasing it tomorrow hehe.

Wave

Sirius
You should have known that I have all of AM’s books. lol. I’ve been a fan for a long time.

This is Lynn’s wonderful review. I would never have done such a great job. 🙂

Aunt Lynn

Hey Sirius. AMR is one of Wave’s favorite authors, but was unable to take on a L-O-N-G book right now. 🙂 It was me who never read anything by her, and now I am off to get lots more.

Sirius

DUH. Talk about being tired after work. Sorry Lynn. For some reason I decided this review was WRITTEN by Wave. Ooops. But it still applies, love her books LOVE.

Diane NYC

Yay! A new AM Riley book!! She’s an auto-buy for me. {running off to make a purchase} Thanks for the review.

Aunt Lynn

My pleasure, Diane. Let us know what you think after.

Feliz

Lynn,

you absolutely MUST read Amor en retrogrado, it’s one of my all-time favourites (thanks Jen for steering me towards it). And if you want to pass on the supernaturals, at least read Immortality is the suck, you’ll get hooked to that, too. Riley writes unlikeable heroes you can’t help liking in the end like no other.

Aunt Lynn

Thanks for the rec, Feliz. I have AER and will be reading it over my holiday break, and will definitely consider the other.

Jenre

I’ve not read the review, Lynn, because I have this on my TBR pile and never read reviews of books I already own until after I’ve read :). I will pop back and see if I agree with you later :).

It looks like this book has been a great intro to what is one of my favourite authors. If you’re looking for somewhere to start with the back list then I highly recommend The Elegant Corpse as one of the best m/m mysteries that I’ve read.

Aunt Lynn

Yes, please stop back after you’ve read it, Jen. I was thinking about The Elegant Corpse (I remember your glowing review), but I’m a little scared of the BDSM aspect. What do you think for someone who isn’t so much into that sub-genre?

AM Riley

Thank you for such a thorough and kind review. I’m impressed that you were able to do this in just a few days!

I think it’s up to me to publicize my books,and their whereabouts, but I sort of stink at it. 🙁

Thank you for letting the readers know.

Aunt Lynn
Good morning AM, and thanks for stopping by. It was my pleasure to put almost everything aside to read and review this one. I think it’s up to me to publicize my books,and their whereabouts, but I sort of stink at it. 🙁 While I agree that authors do bear responsibility for publicizing their wares, I do think where one buys the book also does. If I was Average Joe Reader, I may go off to a publisher’s (or other distribution site) and just peruse the selections available. I may not know anything about the author or her/his other works… Read more »
Cole

“I also won’t watch a movie after it’s begun.”

Me too! I am so anal retentive about things like that, especially a TV series. If I miss one episode, I will forgo watching the entire season until it comes out on DVD.

Aunt Lynn

We’re made for each other, Cole. Sure you won’t come over to the other side? We can bake together and watch stuff from the beginning only. 😉 In the alternative, I’m always on the hunt for a new BFF.

Cole

As Michelle Tanner would say: “You got it, dude!”

I did have a girlfriend once. I was the fem one and she was really butch. Aside from certain obvious things, we were a match made in heaven. Lets have BFF theme nights. We can watch Eat, Pray, Love and make our own pizzas 🙂

Wave
I’m so happy you enjoyed Death by Misfortune. I’m just reading it now – I can’t resist her books. The reason there was no mention of AeR in the blurb is because MLR did not release it and most publishers don’t publicise books by their competitors. The same thing happened with a series by PA Brown – the LA series. Anyhow readers will know from your wonderful review that they should also read Amor en Retrogrado. She also wrote Son of a Gun that I reviewed (she sure gets around) 🙂 and you will enjoy that as well because there… Read more »
Aunt Lynn
The reason there was no mention of AeR in the blurb is because MLR did not release it and most publishers don’t publicise books by their competitors. Well, that just plain sucks for the readers. Seriously. What, it’s up to me to go out and find it out? 🙁 And what, I’m not going to go out, once I do find out that it’s part of a series, and hunt down the other book(s)? It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not like I can get the other books from MLR and I choose to go to the other publisher… Read more »
LadyM
I knew that A.M. Riley was working on this book, but it was still a wonderful surprise when Wave announced it a few days ago. When I heard that this was published, I went to A.M.’s site and she said that the next book will be more about Bill and Christopher. They were part of the secondary plot in AeR and it seems that is the case here too. While I love how A.M. is writing mysteries, I really want more of these two (specifically, I want Bill to pull his head out of his ass XD). I’m so glad… Read more »
Aunt Lynn

I really want more of these two (specifically, I want Bill to pull his head out of his ass XD)

Word. Seriously, his character pissed me off more than once and I don’t know why Christopher puts up with him. BUT I am guessing there is stuff we don’t know and I am waiting on that for final judgment.

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