Murder Creek, by Jane Suen [REVIEW]

Author Jane Suen says this book was inspired by a road sign in Alabama reading: Murder Creek. From that, she spins out a Novella about a college student (Eve), who crosses that same highway bridge and becomes entranced by how Murder Creek got its name. Eve begins digging into both a two-hundred-year-old war battle and a 20-year-old missing persons case. Her motivation to be obsessed with the missing person (Lacey Walken) is never really explained, but she convinces her college professor to let her write her term paper on this case, so she spends a few weeks in the summer solving a case that nobody else could manage over the past 20 years.

The writing here is at times well-detailed, but at other times very basic. There are many very short chapters where nothing happens, which seems like filler to try to make what is a short story into a full novel. The descriptions of Lacey’s many trips to the local diner don’t make up for a lack of depth in the characters or a lack of detail in the plot. Characters who have been keeping secrets for 20 years suddenly open up to Eve, while other characters are complete dead ends and red herrings. Eve has a source of information who is seemingly attracted to her and fully willing to help, but Eve instead chases down people who have no incentive to talk to her, and provide no helpful information. She finds critical research in the local library microfiche archives, and finds another (very dubious) critical clue with the aid of a character who should be keeping secrets, not helpfully providing the old records. In the end, the plot makes no sense and the surprise ending is both not that surprising and also quite implausible. The reader along the way had no chance to guess the truth, nor does the truth hold up to much scrutiny.

The basic story has some appeal. Lacey was the prettiest girl in the local high school, but suddenly had a blow-up with her mother, dropped out of school, and worked full-time at the local pizza parlor. Then, one night, she went missing. The cops found her scarf, with her blood on it, on a tree out near Murder Creek. She was never found. As the start for a book, this has potential. Now knowing the full story, it’s a book that could have been put together far better, with more interestingly drawn characters, and more plausible plot points and twists, and with a more dramatic conclusion.

As it stands, Eve, our amateur sleuth, wants to know what happened. But, how can she uncover the truth about the biggest local unsolved crime/mystery in the last generation? The answer is that she should not be able to, but the pieces fall into her lap without much effort. It’s not a very satisfying narrative, with far too much irrelevant filler and far too many unasked questions and plot holes.

There is no romance in this story, although there was an obvious opportunity for it. The author seemed to be in a hurry to get to the end of the main plot, leaving no time for subplots or character development. There is very little suspense. There are few clues to really follow, and the ending seems rushed. All told, this seems like a hastily written story with little to recommend it unless you’re looking for a quick, simple read where you don’t want to think hard or care much about the characters.

Perhaps as an introduction to the genre for young readers this would be a good choice. There is no violence, sex, or adult language. The writing is simple, it’s short, and it’s easy to follow. The book is not marketed that way, but for that kind of purpose, it would be fine. For adult readers who are expecting more, I’d suggest taking a pass on this one.

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