Downsized to Death
Review: Travel agent Patricia Gulley introduces her (presumably fictional!) counterpart Prudence "Pru" Peters, who finds herself investigating the murder of her clueless manager, in Downsized to Death.
Set in 2001, Pru manages a Global Vacation travel agency in Portland with a handful of agents. Pru's corporate parent, recognizing that substantial changes are coming to the industry, is in the process of consolidating field offices and reducing staff. The task to deliver the news of who stays and who doesn't to the Oregon offices falls to the district manager and Pru's immediate boss, Claudia Gage, a former marketing executive hired by the company to improve its image, though someone with little knowledge of the travel industry. Pru is surprised — and more than a little dismayed — to be told that, though her position will be retained, she will have to reapply for the job if she wants to keep it. Through unofficial channels, Pru learns that Claudia herself may be out of a job, her position eliminated, and that she will be vying for Pru's job. Traveling to Vancouver for the weekend to check out a new cruise ship, Pru sees Claudia at the airport returning from the company's west coast regional office in Los Angeles, though she doesn't see her. Pru returns to Portland on Monday to discover that Claudia has been murdered … and one of her agents may be the prime suspect.
Downsized to Death is a by-the-book cozy-style mystery. Structurally it has all the right elements, and is pleasant enough to read. But the problem here is really with the murder mystery plot. Not that's it is poorly written or developed, just that it is completely orthogonal to the presumed theme, characters and setting of the book. It seems the author wants to take a risk here by introducing a non-traditional, or maybe unexpected, plotline into what one might reasonably consider to be a travel-related series based on the lead character's occupation … and even the book's cover, with its prominent display of passport stamps. True, corporate shenanigans and back-stabbing go on in every company of any size, even local travel agencies. Still, with the wealth of travel-related material available to develop a murder mystery plot, why choose the relatively mundane topic of company downsizing as the foundation for the story — and especially the first book in what is likely to be a new series? It's simply incongruous. But if this is to be a travel-related mystery series and if this is a topic the author wants to explore, it's much more appropriate for a fourth or fifth book, after the character has been firmly established.
As it is, it's uncertain what's next for Pru. More corporate intrigue with murder in the boardroom, or is she on a comp cruise when the purser is found dead in a stateroom? Certainly one of the appeals of a series is that readers look forward to subsequent books. The conclusion of Downsized to Death hints at a direction, but the ambiguity introduced with this first book doesn't serve the potential for a series very well at all.
Acknowledgment: Patricia Gulley provided a copy of Downsized to Death for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Downsized to Death: Portland, Oregon
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Downsized to Death by Patricia Gulley — A Prudence Peters Mystery
Publisher: Wings Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: April 2010
List Price: $16.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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