Escapade by Walter Satterthwait

I finally finished this last night. I wish I could say I liked it. It seems like it should be right up my alley – great characters, including Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a murder, a locked room, an English country manor. Throw in some “ghosts” and a séance and you can see why I was drawn to it. Unfortunately I was bored.

Phil Beaumont is a Pinkerton detective whose current assignment is to guard Houdini from a rival magician. He accompanies Houdini to a weekend gathering at and English country manor where there are several other guests, including a slightly nutty Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. the old Earl is murdered, Phil and Houdini decide to investigate with the help of another guest’s paid companion, Jane Turner. Jane is a very competent young lady and holds her own in the story.

“Someone meant to kill her?” she asked me.

“Sounds like it.”

“But that’s insane,” said Mrs. Corneill. “Why would anyone want to harm Jane?”

I looked at the young woman. “Miss Turner? You have any ideas?”

She widened her eyes and arched her eyebrows, surprised— at the question itself, or maybe at my asking it . Then she smile another small smile that was both tentative and ironic. “Well,” she said, “Mrs. Allardyce wasn’t altogether pleased with the way I packed the luggage.”

I grinned. A real surprise, Miss Turner. (pg. 242)

She is a treat, really. And I have to admit to being fond of Phil too. The story is told mostly from his point of view, in the first person, interspersed with letter Jane writes about the events taking place. And there is more going on than just the murder. There’s a fake medium, a Shakespeare quoting detective, and a lot of bedroom-hopping, although the rendezvous are always broken up.

I can’t really put my finger on why it didn’t work for me. Even writing this review, it sounds like I should have truly enjoyed the book, but to be honest I could barely finish it. I just didn’t care. Maybe it’s because in my head it was a mystery, and I should have thought about it differently from the beginning. Maybe I should have been enjoying it for the characters, with  the mystery secondary. I will say that the ending was rather surprising, and made up for the first half of the book to some degree.

I think I have the second, Masquerade, somewhere in the house. I’m not going to be in any rush to get around to reading it.

Purchase at Amazon, or IndieBound.

Phil Beaumont/Jane Turner #1
355 pages
First published 1995

2½ out of 5 stars

Challenge: 100+

I received my copy through PaperbackSwap and the above is my honest opinion.