Ian Ferguson and Will Ferguson are highly regarded Canadian humorists – Leacock Award winners, no less – who now and again joins forces to pen books like How to be a Canadian. Now they’ve turned their satirical eye on cosy crime fiction with a short novel called I Only Read Murder. It is the tale of Miranda Abbott, a down-on-her-luck actress who decides to audition for an amateur production with hopes of reinvigorating her career and her love life. Things do not go according to plan when one of the actors is murdered on stage in front of the dress rehearsal audience.
Remember the proverb that you are only as good as your most recent success? It has been 15 years since Miranda played a lead character in the TV show Pastor Fran Investigates. Her career in Hollywood has tanked so badly that she can’t even get a place on The Real Has-Beens of Beverly Hills and it’s no wonder when her agent fires her. Her furniture is being repossessed and she’s unable to pay her assistant, Andrew. She lives in a rundown apartment located lower down than the luxury homes in the Hollywood Hills.
When Miranda receives a mysterious postcard from Happy Rock, Oregon, she believes it’s the answer to her problems and catches the first bus out of Los Angeles. It should be noted that Andrew has to buy the ticket for her. After an extremely long trip, Miranda arrives in the Tillamook Bay area of the fictitious harbour town with its Victorian architecture.
Happy Rock is a picturesque place with many quirky residents such as the members of the small police department and the elderly resident who may or may not be a former spy. Miranda, who views herself as a Hollywood star, is like a fish out of water. The only person she knows in Happy Rock is her husband, whom she has not seen in 15 years.
The title of the book, I Only Read Murder, is the name of her husband’s specialty mystery bookstore. Edgar Abbott was a screenwriter for the TV series Parrot PI!, the show that led to the spin-off Pastor Fran Investigates. Although Edgar also wrote for Pastor Fran Investigates, he was not as attached to the Hollywood lifestyle as Miranda. When they finally meet again, it’s clear that Miranda made some wrong assumptions about why Edgar has contacted her after so many years apart.
As you are reading the book, you will likely notice a bit of a Schitt’s Creek vibe. In addition to the numerous quirky characters living in Happy Rock, there are also some similarities between the characters of Miranda and Moira. Both are self-absorbed actors who still behave like they are on the A List when in reality they shifted to the D List a long time ago. You may find yourself put off by Miranda’s selfishness but once she begins to forge relationships with the people in Happy Rock, you will see signs of some personal growth.
Miranda’s increased self-awareness comes after she decides to conduct her own investigation into the playhouse murder. Following the same pattern as an episode of Pastor Fran Investigates, the killing does not occur until the mid-point of the book. The first half of I Only Read Murder is focused on establishing the characters and their backgrounds, and we are given more than enough time with the self-centred Miranda.
Miranda’s motivation to solve the murder is not to assist the community in dealing with this horrific crime. Her decision is self-serving. For several reasons, she is worried that she may be considered a prime suspect. She is also worried that she was the intended victim. Miranda recruits Susan, an employee at the I Only Read Murder bookstore as her sidekick. Working with someone else and digging into the assumptions that she had made about the townspeople, Miranda begins to realise she has more of a connection to Happy Rock than she does to Hollywood.
The humour here comes through the gentle mocking of things like the many sub-genres of crime fiction and the preposterous plots of older TV shows like Magnum PI and Charlie’s Angels. This is conveyed through descriptions of episodes of Pastor Fran Investigates, where Miranda frequently ended up in a bikini giving someone a karate chop. It is no surprise that there are humorous elements scattered throughout the book with the pedigree of its authors.
An entertaining read, I Only Read Murder is the first in a series featuring Miranda Abbott. Now that Miranda is demonstrating some personal growth and more depth of character, and a solid foundation in the cast of characters has been built, hopefully future books in the series will move at a faster pace. Given the track record of the Fergusons, there will be much anticipation for the next one.
Also see our review Five Moves of Doom by Canadian author AJ Devlin.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars