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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Out of Order Murder Mystery by Bert Paul

Out of Order Murder Mystery by Bert Paul
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Take everything you've ever known about mysteries, and get ready to toss it out the window. Preferably at the neighbor who stole your newspaper this morning. Go on. We'll wait here.

This story is a spoof of murder mysteries and courtroom dramas, with a bit of science fiction thrown in. It is told, well, out of order. Hence the title. Because of that, the victim finds out ahead of time that he may be murdered and has a chance to take evasive action. Naturally, things don't go well.

Many of the characters come to realize they are not in real life, but have been caught up in "a stupid Uncle Bert story." Yet, they know the only way out is to proceed through the story to the end. Action alternates back and forth between courtroom drama and events happening outside the courtroom. And some actions even happen before other actions start. Or end. Or, in the middle of other actions.

Who will live, who will die and who will escape having to end up in another one of Bert's stories? Will anyone actually get to go on vacation? Whodunit?

A laugh-out-loud, madcap short story.

How do you solve a crime that hasn’t happened yet? I haven’t read many books about characters who are aware that they’re living in someone else’s tale. It was a delightful surprise to see the wide variety of humorous reactions to this dilemma. This is from my favorite scene: “Mrs. Plaid put her bullhorn down. In a sweet voice she said, ‘Well you see, I have this medical condition. Osteo–trichi-psychosis. Something to do with eating undercooked pork when I was young, and the worms are eating my bones, making me shorter and brittle-boned and driving me crazy.’ ‘Well, what’s the treatment for this condition’” asked the judge. “I must be allowed to do whatever I want for the rest of my life,”’said Mrs. Plaid.”

Other funny moments occur when Vladexa, Byron, Mr. P and the rest of the cast argue with Uncle Bert (the author) or one another about what the previous paragraph said had happened. Speaking of Mr. P, his reaction to the news that he will be the victim of this crime was what really congealed this into something I’ll want to read again. Mr. P straddles the line between farce and realism so well that at times I actually forgot I was reading fiction. He acted and sounded as terrified, angered and annoyed as any of us would be in that situation.

Unfortunately I found the rapid jumps between scenes from the end, beginning, and middle of the murder disorienting at first. There were quite a few characters to get to know in a short period of time. It might have been easier to sort them out if Mr. Paul had either jumped around less in the first few chapters so new readers could get used to it or offered a more complete explanation of what was happening in the first scene. At a certain point, though, all of the skipping around feels like a natural extension of the zaniness of the plot and the temporary character confusion is replaced by a basic understanding of the voice of every individual competing for your attention. It’s just too bad that it takes a little while to get settled into what was otherwise a great story.

Has it been a while since you’ve laughed? Out of Order Murder Mystery is the perfect book to tickle your funny bone.

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