Braced for Murder by Sue Owens Wright

Posted April 26, 2014 in Book Review / 0 Comments

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Source: ARC from publisher

Title: Braced for Murder
Author: Sue Owens Wright
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Release Date: May 15th 2013
Braced for Murder (A Beanie & Cruiser Mystery)Pages: 242
Note: This ARC was sent to me free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Rating:

Summary


When Beanie volunteers to foster a homeless basset hound from Lakeside Animal Shelter, she’s headed for calamity one way or another. Beanie and Cruiser are on the crime trail once again after a reviled shelter manager is discovered euthanized. Tahoe Animal Impoundment Liberation Society (TAILS) is a prime suspect in her murder, but there are plenty of other suspects among South Lake Tahoe’s irate dog lovers, including the grieving owner of Gilda, an ill-fated basset rumored to haunt the shelter.

If Beanie doesn’t have enough trouble unleashed on her with another murder to solve and daughter Nona’s health scare, foster dog Calamity is living up to her name, creating havoc at the MacBean house. With all her behavioral issues, this crazy hound could make a dog whisperer scream. Beanie is eager to find an adopter for Calamity at the upcoming Basset Waddle fundraiser for a new no-kill animal shelter, but Calamity has other ideas.

When TAILS crashes the Waddle rally and parade, chaos ensues. After Cruiser mysteriously vanishes during the mêlée, Beanie discovers he’s being held at the shelter and could be destroyed. Racing to Cruiser’s rescue, she stumbles into a deadly trap intended to put an end to the murder investigation along with Beanie and her crime-busting canine. When it looks like all may be lost, Cruiser and Calamity are “braced” for murder as they pair up to track the killer and save Beanie from a cruel death at the dog pound.
Main Points
Review Intro

I just need to get this out there now- I don’t like dogs. I am not a dog person. I am a hardcore cat lover. I have absolutely no idea why I requested this ARC. Maybe I was just in the mood for an animal book? It’s been ages since I’ve read something like that.
But with this book I was pleasantly surprised. It kind of changed my view on dogs a little bit, especially my own. I find myself looking more fondly at her than I did before reading this book. I will give the author one thing- her enthusiasm is infectious. 


Writing Style
The writing was great- and very poetic at certain times. See the ‘quotes’ section below. I did notice that although it was written in past tense, it switched to present a lot, as if she was writing the book currently about a recent event. I don’t notice that in a lot of other books- or at least, it doesn’t stand out the way it did here. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. It may help put the reader in the action. 
I also noticed another little issue, with the dialog. At times, it was just one quote after another, nothing in between. It got a little confusing at times trying to decipher who was talking, especially when the conversations were long. I would often see a name mentioned and think, ‘oh! That’s who was talking! Now let me re-read the last few lines to orient myself again.’ This happened maybe twice or three times, not much overall, but enough to make a point about.
There were also a lot of dog puns. Everywhere. On every single page. They were fun. 
Plot
There is a lot of plot here. A lot of things going on at once. I even made a list of things to keep track of (knowing they would also help me with the review) and check off when they were resolved. Kind of like certain video games (*cough cough* Professor Layton) where they keep track of your solved/unsolved mysteries throughout the game. 
The summary barely scratches the surface, plotwise. Yes, the main issue is the murder, but there is a lot more going on. (and I’m surprised how much of the ending is revealed by the summary. spoilers much?) Beyond the murder, there is also her daughter Nona’s issues, foster dog Calamity’s issues (another huge part of the book), Native American tribal issues, police force issues, curses, ghosts (for real!), TAILS issues, and other little incidents. It’s quite a plot-packed story.
Interestingly enough, the story more or less STARTS with the murder, but it takes a backseat to Beanie’s other issues, mostly about Calamity, until around page 130. Beanie doesn’t really have a central role in the investigation until about that mark. I was surprised when I thought about it later, but while reading, it wasn’t disappointing. Calamity had enough going on to make her own book, along with all the other plot elements. The murder didn’t really NEED to be central, and I felt like it wouldn’t have fit with Beanie’s character anyway. It wasn’t as if she was a detective, after all. It was kind of refreshing reading about a murder mystery from the view of someone who wasn’t all that involved (until later in the book, anyway). It’s like, yeah, this stuff probably actually does happen in our society whether we’re part of it or not! Life goes on around us. We’re just characters in someone else’s story. And other philosophical things like that.
And the whole issue with TAILS is quite interesting. They’re a group that’s against the bad shelter management, but they are portrayed as the bad guys throughout the novel. Beanie has a healthy dislike for their leader, Tori Thatcher. NOT a nice woman. No one really likes TAILS because their methods of raising awareness are too aggressive and in-your-face, which is sad because they are for a good cause. Seems to me like not only the manager of the shelter needs replacing, but the manager of TAILS as well. So many bad people in charge!
At least Skip is nice. He’s in charge of the police force, with problems of his own. Aside from the murder, there’s feminist Rusty Cannon to put up with. She’s new to the force, but she doesn’t think she’s being treated equally because of her past as a pin-up girl, and she just wants some respect. She gives the police a bit of a hard time about that until she earns her keep. I was annoyed at her through most of the book because she was a little over-the-top, but she turned out pretty okay. (although it still bugged me that she didn’t respect the tribal traditions that the rest of the police force did. even if she was just doing her job)
The Calamity issue took up a lot of book-space (as I’ll call it, akin to screen-time with movies). She was the ultimate nightmare to have in your house. She was worse than a new puppy for a lot of it (at least until Nona came to save the day). Honestly she symbolized everything I don’t like in dogs, but I still had the feeling of wanting her to recover from past abuses and just CALM DOWN a little bit. I was rooting for her the whole time. 
There were a lot of spiritual elements to the story as well. Like with the Native Americans and their meetings, seeing visions, and things like that. It happened maybe three or four times in the book, so not a lot, but it was a nice touch to have that spiritual aspect of the story and of Beanie’s personality and heritage. Of course, one part got a bit out there, but I was willing to accept it. Why not. 
There were a FEW unnecessary plot points in the book, I thought. Little incidents like letting dogs loose from the shelter and the break-in, that couldn’t necessarily all be attributed to one person (but when we blame someone, let’s blame that mean guy at the shelter and make him something far worse than he could have been). It wasn’t strictly necessary to do that- we don’t need several bad guys running around, especially when we’re not certain of even one of them. (and when we find out who the main culprit is, it’s not even one of our suspects! huh!) 
So as for the murder mystery part, it was a bit lacking, but the rest of the plot was quite interesting.
Characters
Beanie: She was just such a calm, loving woman. I liked her a lot. I liked her mild temperament, her affection for her daughter and her dogs, and her loyalty to her native ways and traditions.
Nona: She’s basically the average daughter who wants to break from her mom’s traditions and doesn’t really buy into the tribal stuff, but she goes with it out of respect to her mom. And her bond with Calamity was really good for the whole story. Calamity really needed it.
Rhoda Marx (murdered shelter manager): She seemed evil, but considering she was dead at the beginning of the book, we never really got to experience that evil ourselves, only hearing about it from others for the rest of the book. I felt like that kind of took away from the story a little bit. It would have felt more real.
Ending
As for the actual resolution, the solving of the mystery, it felt a bit anticlimactic. The person who did it wasn’t easily predictable, so it wasn’t like we could have deduced it from subtle clues along the way (or it didn’t feel like that to me, anyway). It was somewhat disappointing. But all the loose ends were tied up at some point (it really was helpful having a list of things to check off when they were resolved) even if it was only mentioned in passing, like oh by the way this major issue cleared up, turns out it was actually nothing after all (when it might have been something enough to merit a sequel). It was kind of disappointing to simply hear about it after it happened (especially when it was a big deal) but at least it was cleared up at all. It did turn out to be satisfying.
Quotes:
Remember at the beginning when I said the writing could be poetic? There were moments like this scattered throughout the book:
“The light from candles cannot match the light of the sun reflected on the surface of the lake or stars strewn like rare diamonds across a black velvet night.” (page 133)
“A gusting evening wind had come up, and the tips of the pines that surround my property swept the blushing sky like an artist’s paintbrush.” (page 148)


Good vs. Bad


Good:

  • ending
  • plot points
  • writing (mostly)
  • characters
  • inspiration (the enthusiasm of the narrator)

Less than perfect:
  • murder mystery (and the solving of such)
  • unnecessary plot


Bottom Line
This book was a fabulous multi-layered story packed with all kinds of elements, with the murder mystery being simply one of the themes (and not necessarily one of the major ones). The characters were either loveable or hateable and not always who you think they are. The writing was great and the narrator’s enthusiasm was infectious. Would I read more by this author? Yes I would, but at a later time. Would I recommend this book to others? Yes.
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