Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review of A Burning Truth by Linda Workman-Crider

Book Review: A Burning Truth by Joyce Proell

Review by: Linda Workman-Crider

A Burning Truth is Little Women meets Sherlock Holmes in 1881 Chicago (though it may take more than one character to equal the sleuthing ability of Sherlock, the gist of this statement remains true).

Cady Delafield, a strong-willed, sometimes bull-headed, school administrator, and her romantic partner, Doyle Flanagan, a shipping mogul who made his fortune rebuilding Chicago after the Great Fire in 1871, find their relationship suffering due to the murder and mayhem that seems to also have a special affection for Doyle. Even though the couple’s first meeting happened over a dead body in Cady’s office (in A Deadly Truth, the first book of the Cady Delafield Mystery series), both had hoped to put the tragedy behind them. The discovery of another gruesome murder forces Cady to extremes in defense of Doyle’s good name and finds Doyle scrambling to solve a murder, save his business, and, at the same time, protect Cady from the trauma currently surrounded his life. The burning truth may be that Cady can more easily handle the emotional turmoil of a murder mystery than facing the possibility of giving up her independence for a man, even a man she so passionately desires.

Though A Burning Truth is the second book the Cady Delafield Mystery series, a fact I was unaware of when I chose to read this book, the storyline, told in third-person limited and alternating in the perspectives of our two main characters, stands well on its own. Choosing which is the main plot, however, can be confusing. If Cady is viewed as the main character, then the main plot is a love story interrupted by a murder. If Doyle is our main, then the plot is a murder mystery that includes the parallel-plot of a love story. Doyle is the one digging into the mystery of the burglary of his business and the subsequent murder of his security guard. Doyle’s nemesis, Chief Inspector Middendorf is also investigating the case which only adds to Doyle’s frustrations. He doubts Middendorf has any real motivation to solve the crime that is threatening his business, his reputation, and his relationship with Cady. I personally found the murder mystery focus to be the more enjoyable and more skillfully written plot-line to follow.

One might expect, based on the title of the series, that the plot includes Cady as our sleuth, but I found her to be more of a catalyst to events. Cady’s involvement in finding clues is merely accidental and usually leads to a stereotypical damsel in distress scenes in which Doyle gets to arrive as her stereotypical knight in shining armor. Though Cady’s character states a desire to work and remain independent, her job is only used in scene to further the romance or to catalyze a required circumstance for the story. We rarely see Cady working simply to establish this as important her character in this book and the few scenes we have with her working with a student are motherly in nature. Cady’s scenes and thoughts are mainly focused on her romance and her family. Cady’s weaknesses can be linked to the color of her red-hair; she is strong willed and quick to temper. Proell’s creation of Cady’s character, to me, is limited by her efforts to remain true to the 1881 time-frame of the story. Thankfully, there is huge fan base of this era who will appreciate Cady and who could probably lecture me on the uniqueness of this character. I fully admit that my understanding and acceptance of Cady may be limited by my own ignorance as much as by my own personal preferences.

Doyle’s character is that of an intelligent dark-haired Irish businessman who is both physically and mentally strong. Given the Proell addresses the prejudice of the era, being Irish can be viewed as a weakness, as is his driven desire to protect Cady and his business. We also view a weakness in Doyle through Chief Inspector Middendorf who irritates Doyle with his mere presence. This variety of weakness makes Doyle a more rounded character and believably human. When we add in the fact that Doyle, and not Cady, is the one actively pursuing the stronger, to me, murder mystery plot-line, I would place Doyle as the dominant main character.

The setting of 1881 Chicago can be seen in the depictions of carriage rides and clothing of the era. Proell even shows us the vast differences in living conditions available as Cady is looking to move out on her own and includes some of the prejudice that was prevalent, well. To me, the word choices were very distinctive in setting a dramatic, almost flamboyant, tone in scene setting and dialogue that was integral to getting a feel of the era itself. Manservants, maids and “folderol” were surrounded by language usage very much reminiscent of Alcott’s Little Women. The only time I felt some suspension of belief was during scenes where I thought a chaperone would have been required. This, for me, was easy to set aside, but may not be for die-hard fans of the era, if it is, in fact, an error. Brief research showed that though the use of chaperones was still in effect during this time, there are some intricacies to the practice that would allow a man and woman to be alone together. I will leave it to the experts to decide.

Overall, I think that this book would be found enjoyable by those who enjoyed reading Little Women. I personally found no attachment to Cady’s character and found the dramatic language to be draining during scenes from her perspective. I found the same fault with the revered classic Little Women which means this is simply an issue of my personal tastes and by no means the fault of the Proell’s writing style. I did, however, enjoy Doyle and the murder mystery story-line which made setting aside my own prejudices towards the character of Cady worth it.

This book is available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and the Champagne Bookstore

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