(Reviewed by Danielle Bullen JAN 13, 2009)
“There’s trials to come. Look out for yourself, Mary-Katie.”
Isabella Moon by Laura Benedict is an attention-grabbing mystery novel that transports the reader to the sleepy Southern town of Carrystown, Kentucky. In the beginning of the novel, we learn that a young woman named Isabella Moon disappeared two years earlier. All efforts to find her have failed. That is, until a newcomer to Carrystown, Kate Russell, claims to have seen Isabella’s ghost and knows what happened to her. As the story unfolds, a series of mysterious deaths shake the small town.
First, a healthy high school basketball player collapses and dies during a game. When talking to his family, Sheriff Bill Delaney uncovers boxes and boxes of cold medicine in the boy’s room. The discovery sets in motion a subplot about an underground meth lab operation. Even more gruesome is the murder of Lillian, the mother of Francie, Kate’s best friend. Lillian is bludgeoned to death. Lillian sees Isabella Moon before she dies. Oddly enough, these events coincide with Kate’s admission she knows what happened to the girl. The sheriff then starts to think of Kate as someone to keep an eye on.
Mixed in with the main mysteries are chapters about a woman named Mary-Katie who meets, falls for, and marries Miles. In the Mary-Katie chapters, we learn that Miles “insisted on ordering for her at lunch. . .suggested what dress would be best or told her how to hold her tennis racket.” This controlling behavior dominates their relationship. He freezes Mary-Katie’s credit cards and asks her to sleep with a potential business partner to seal a deal. The ultimate betrayal comes when Miles hires a thug to beat a pregnant Mary-Katie, causing her to miscarry the baby he does not want. Outraged, Mary-Katie shoots him and flees, setting up a new life under a new name.
It’s no surprise that Mary-Katie and Kate Russell are the same woman. The big surprise comes later in the novel when we learn what really happened to Isabella Moon.
All the characters in Isabella Moon are knitted together in complicated and sometimes shocking ways. The story is told through the perspectives of more than seven characters, some taking their turn for only a chapter; others, like Kate, Francie, and Bill Delaney, being the narrator for large portions. While having multiple perspectives can help readers understand a story with so many puzzle pieces, at times it is overwhelming. Sometimes it seems the author bit off more than she can chew. A few storylines, such as who murdered Lillian, become casualties of having too much going on and aren’t fleshed out as well as they could be. At times, the novel teeters on the edge of melodrama. Miles is almost cartoonish in his villainy. It’s hard to believe someone could be so heinous when compared to the more down-to-earth portrayals of the other characters.
Isabella Moon, though, has much to recommend it. The author succeeds in getting readers to root for Kate/Mary-Katie. There are elements of the supernatural in the plot, but it manages to feel as if each could really happen and it never ventures into the macabre. Some interesting themes running throughout are identity and perception. Can we change ourselves? Can we change what people think of us? A subplot involving the inter-racial relationship between Francie and her boyfriend, who come from different economic backgrounds, addresses identity and perception as it relates to race and class. The story lets readers pause and say hmmm about these big issues without being hit over the head.
While not perfect, Benedict has put together what should be a welcome addition to a mystery fan’s bookshelf.
- Amazon readers rating: from 16 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Isabella Moon at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Laura Benedict
- January Magazine snashot of Laura Benedict
- Murderati interview with Laura Benedict
- BlogCritics review of Isabella Moon
- BookReporter review of Isabella Moon
- Curled Up reveiw of Isabella Moon
- Chapter excerpt for Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts
- Backstory for Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts
- BookLoons review of Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts
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About the Author:
Laura Benedict's short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and a number of anthologies. For the past decade she has worked as a freelance book reviewer for The Grand Rapids Press in Michigan and other newspapers. She lives in southern Illinois, with her husband, Pinckney Benedict, and their two children.