Title: A Party to Murder
Author: John Inman
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Page Count: 220
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 1 flame out of 5
Rating: 2.4 stars out of 5
When Jamie Roma and Derek Lee find their blossoming love affair interrupted by dual invitations to a house party from a mysterious unnamed host, they think, Sounds like fun. The next thing they know they are caught up in a game of cat and mouse that quickly starts racking up a lot of dead mice. *Yikes,* they think. *Not so fun.*
Trapped inside a spooky old house in the middle of nowhere, with the body count rising among their fellow guests, they begin to wonder if they’ll escape with their lives. As a cataclysmic storm swoops in to batter the survivors, the horror mounts.
Oddly enough, even in the midst of murder and mayhem, Jamie and Derek’s love continues to thrive.
While the guest list thins, so does the list of suspects. Soon it’s only them and the killer.
And then the battle really begins.
The blurb reads like a new take on Agatha Christie’s 1939 murder mystery “And Then There Were None”, a classic of the genre. High ambitions for a writer? For sure. Too high in this case, I’d say. The book opens with the two main characters, Derek and Jamie, driving towards an unknown destination to attend a party thrown by an unknown host (reader, be warned: it takes them 10% of the book to get there). We’re supposed to understand that they are childhood chums who’ve recently added sex to their agenda, but from the start there’s an astonishing amount of tender kissing and hugging that immediately belies their posing as mere longtime mates cum sex-buddies. Sometime during their (long) drive to destination a surprisingly violent thunderstorm breaks out, which turns a river into a churning inferno. Barely have they driven over the only existing bridge when that bridge is (conveniently) swept away by the torrent. That’s when I knew they were trapped. And I was, too.
Finally, the boys do reach the creepy mansion where they’re meant to spend the weekend. They’re greeted by the grumpy and openly homophobic Mrs. and Mr. Jupp, the staff that’s been hired for the party. They then discover the other guests, which consist of Cleeta-Gayle Jones, a middle-aged woman with a bad hairdo (oh Lord, and do we hear about her hairdo!); Oliver Banyon, a hunky college professor with a “jutting jawline […] sharp enough to slice bread”; and his moody-broody young student slash lover Tommy Stevens. They also discover there’s no network coverage (they’re doubly trapped now). And the thunderstorm continues unabated—be prepared to endure it throughout the book, by the way (that must be the thunderstorm of the century—the story takes place in Southern California, after all). All that’s been missing are two dead bodies, which are promptly discovered in the basement of the mansion that evening. Plus, everybody realizes their mobiles have been stolen—they’re now triply trapped (sorry, no, it’s four times; let’s not forget about that ultraviolent thunderstorm that goes on and on and on). The next morning, we reach the “being-trapped”-overkill, by the way, as we learn that the tires of all the cars have been slashed overnight and their engines ruined. And then Mr. Jupp is killed, and then Mrs. Jupp is killed, and then…
Does it show? This book really wasn’t my cup of tea. It was meant to evolve around two main ideas, the friends-to-lovers trope and the murder mystery, two themes I rather like to read about. But friends turning to lovers? Not for me. From page 1, Derek and Jamie firmly established themselves in my mind as a fully formed couple, despite the author’s repeated attempts to make me believe they weren’t. Oh, they discuss the topic at length and in every which way, but that didn’t work for me, given that I was shown something completely different, what with how they were acting and interacting with each other. Now, the murder mystery at least, was it any good? Uhm, for me it fell completely flat too. The story didn’t succeed in getting me interested, let alone in carrying me along. I just found the plot contrived and far-fetched; sorry, I couldn’t go with the flow. Unsurprisingly the ending was rather unsatisfactory for me, too.
Add to this the over-written style of the book. I’m sure some people would appreciate it, but I wasn’t much amused. It was a festival of overloaded adjectives, specifications, metaphors, convoluted phrases. For instance, why write “a not unpleasant calm settled over them” when it would be much easier and less awkward to say “a pleasant calm”? This is but a small example. And that thunderstorm! At one moment, after it abated for a while only to start up again with a vengeance, Jamie said something like, “Why so much rain?”. To which Derek replied with a groan, “Atmosphere […] A cheesy plot device. Who writes this shit, anyway?” That was the moment I uncharitably thought, Why, writers should never give their readers the stick to beat them with.