Absinthe of Malice
A Penny Mackenzie Mystery by Pat Browning
Review: Setting her debut mystery in a small town in California's central valley, Pat Browning introduces newspaper reporter Penny Mackenzie in the almost but not quite a cozy Absinthe of Malice.
Penny's friend and colleague Maxie Harper are on a midnight stake-out in a cotton field. Maxie's looking for that one hard-hitting story that will be picked up by the national news services and get her out of the small town in which they live and work. When a few boys show up to smoke some weed and dig around in the dirt in secrecy, they're disappointed. But when they suddenly run off, they're intrigued. What Penny and Maxie find are the bones of an old skeleton, unexpectedly uncovered by the boys. An old body would hardly seem all that newsworthy, but when Maxie is later found dead, possibly of food poisoning, Penny's not so sure. Then old secrets start to come to light and Penny realizes her small, unexciting town may be hiding more than just a body in a field.
The primary problem with a mystery like Absinthe of Malice is that it is a punny title in search of a plot. Worse for a mystery, with a title like this, it usually dictates not only how the victim was killed, but often who the culprit was, eliminating any element of surprise that may have been attempted. This isn't to say Absinthe of Malice isn't a pleasant read. The setting is appealing and creatively drawn, and the characters are interesting and well-developed. Penny Mackenzie in particular would seem to be a series lead worthy of following. But there's a lack of focus here; there are too many plot threads, most of them obviously tangential to the murder mystery, that seem to exist simply to fill out the narrative. It's unfortunate that the emphasis seems to be more on the clever title of this mystery than on constructing a strong plot to support it.
Acknowledgment: Krill Press provided a copy of Absinthe of Malice for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Absinthe of Malice: California
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Absinthe of Malice by Pat Browning — A Penny Mackenzie Mystery
Publisher: Krill Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: December 2008
List Price: $15.95