Simon Said, by Sarah Shaber

>> Thursday, March 13, 2014

TITLE: Simon Said
AUTHOR: Sarah Shaber

PAGES: 220
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Cozy mystery
SERIES: First in a series

Forensic historian Simon Shaw likes his murders old and cold, and his first case fits the bill. An archeologist friend has found a skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull under historic Bloodworth House, and Simon investigates with his usual doggedness until he discovers that the corpse is Anne Bloodworth, an heiress who disappeared in 1926. Shaw feels compelled to find out who killed her. But this turns out to be more than an academic exercise when someone who wants to hide past secrets tries to murder him!

I can't remember who recommended this one, but reading the blurb, I can see exactly why I picked it up. Simon Shaw is a historian and academic working in a small university in North Carolina. When a friend of his finds a clearly old skeleton with a bullet hole through the skull while restoring an old house, Simon is brought in by the police. Given his knowledge of local history, they hope he might be able to identify the murder victim.

Doing so is quite easy. Simon quickly deduces that it must be Anne Bloodworth, a daughter of the house who disappeared in the 1920s. It was quite the scandal at the time, and Simon has read all about it. But now that he knows what happened to Anne, he feels compelled to find out why she was killed and who did it. As far as the police are concerned, it's too old a case to waste any resources on it -officially. Unofficially, both the chief of police and their legal advisor would quite like to know the truth and follow Simon's investigation with interest, providing help when they can.

But what looks like a nice, simple historical investigation turns into something a bit more, when it becomes clear that someone is trying to hurt Simon.

Well, meh. It was an interesting idea, but although I liked a few little things about the story and the characters, the whole didn't quite work for me.

My main problem was that Simon didn’t really gel for me as a character. Shaber tells us he’s a regular, if really intelligent, man, but he doesn’t read particularly like a man in his 30s. And I swear, I’m not at all prescriptive about models of masculinity. I’m ecstatic when an author moves away from the alpha male and adds characteristics more associated with femininity. It’s just that Simon often behaved, thought and spoke like a missish old lady. I would have found it just as hard to buy his character as a woman in his 30s. It’s hard to explain. I mean, say, the fact that he kept getting embarrassed. It wasn’t the embarrassment itself (after all, at the same time I was reading So Tough To Tame, by Victoria Dahl, where the hero keeps blushing, and I thought it was lovely), but the sorts of situations in which it happened. It reminded me of this friend of my mum's who feels mortally embarrassed if someone sees her come out of a bathroom, or even eat in public. Not that he does that, in particular, it was the vibe I got from him. His interactions with Julia, the police legal counsel, come to mind as well. She's supposed to be the love interest here, but Simon's attitude when he meets her is “nice looking gal, but that dress is really the wrong colour for her”. No chemistry at all there, I bought that they liked each other, but Shaber showed absolutely no attraction from her POV character.

I did like some of what she did with Simon, though. For instance the fact that, without much fuss being made out of it, Shaber tells us Simon became clinically depressed recently, when his wife left him, and was prescribed antidepressants by his doctor. It’s not a huge plot point (a jealous rival at the college tries to make it so, but it doesn’t work). Simon thinks it’s mildly embarrassing and would prefer it if people didn’t know, but if it has to come out, oh well. That, I thought, was handled well.

The case, which I hoped would be really fascinating, was mildly interesting, at best. I probably would have liked a bit more on the details of doing the investigation, the way Simon approaches the historical research necessary to dig up the facts. There was a bit of that, but it was mostly glossed over. As for the resolution, it was a bit predictable. Right from the beginning I thought “I hope it’s not X, doing it because Y”. If it was X, it would have been much too obvious, and yep, it turned out it was. But fortunately, they weren’t doing it because of Y, because that would have been a stupid, stupid reason. The reason they did it was much more believable, but still, not particularly interesting.

I also had some issues with the writing style, which felt a bit too simple and unsophisticated, to the point of being clunky. It felt sort of amateurish, and interfered with the flow of the story.

I didn't hate this, but I definitely didn't like it enough to continue with the series.



Barb in Maryland 13 March 2014 at 15:36  

Oh yes, this is definitely a first book. I've read the rest of the series and the writing does improve. Readers who are familiar with that part of North Carolina (as I am) will appreciate that the author does know her locale and she provides several 'insider' nods to local universities.
So I guess that's the long way of saying I enjoyed it more than you did. Though I wouldn't rate it higher than a B.

Darlynne,  13 March 2014 at 16:07  

I read this years ago and actually disliked it, for many of the same reasons. It should have been a perfect fit; maybe that's why I was so disappointed by what felt like missed opportunities.

Rosario 14 March 2014 at 08:05  

Barb: I think I might need to rethink my policy of starting series at the beginning. I've had several recommended to me (especially mystery series) where the first book has been really bad, and that has put me off trying the later books that made my friends recommend the series in the first place!

Darlynne: Yes, that's exactly it. It seemed like it would have all I like in a mystery, but it just didn't hit the mark.

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