There’s a great story in this snappy detective novel. A nifty murder mystery, with an unlikely anti-hero PI, a sassy female sidekick and a cleverly constructed plot. In the manner of a modern day Sherlock Holmes, Lemons (based in sweltering California and hating every second of its artificial sheen), attends murder scenes, draws sweeping conclusions from a scant handful of clues, allows his police detective pals to take the credit, and gets away with all manner of socially unacceptable behaviour because… well, because he’s different.
Trouble is, I really couldn’t like the central character. No matter how human his flaws, how well sketched his relationship with his wife, how easily he admitted his muck-ups, how much he loved his dead dad… he also got right up my pipe. And I didn’t get half the jokes and witticisms. Half the time I felt like an observer watching good friends riffing and having a riot while wondering what on earth they were talking about. An in-joke too far, maybe – or perhaps just more USA west coast slang than a UK west country dweller can cope with.
Without a degree of sympathy for the protagonist, it’s kinda hard to go along with the less credible aspects of the plot. It becomes harder to believe that law enforcement officers keep cutting Lemons loose, or that they all failed to see initially what he spots in a matter of moments at the crime scene. So the story itself started to slither away from me, becoming more like an Agatha Christie era mystery in which a cantankerous old biddie comes up with the goods and everyone steps back in awe and applauds. Except Lemons is greedy and gross, not old, and he his personal habits and crude chatter left me feeling mildly repulsed. The not infrequent typos (of/or; ‘exaguration’) didn’t help the story flow, either.
So reading Death To Archie Lemons was a lot like coming in halfway through a party. Everyone else was having a great time and they all got the joke. I stayed to the end and saw the last guest depart, but I’m still not sure I know anything about the guy who invited me. And to be honest, if he asks me to another party then my hair probably needs washing.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Death To Archie Lemons is available as an ebook or paperback