A Killer’s Guide to Good Works
by Shelley Costa
I struggled a little with why I did not like the second book in the Val Cameron Mystery Series as much as I liked the first. Lest you dismiss this book out of hand, please hear me out. At no point did I entertain the idea of not finishing the book. I wanted to watch the main character, Val Cameron, discover who murdered her best friend Adrian. I could, however, put this book aside temporarily without regret–not a good sign.
A lot of A Killer’s Guide to Good Works seems forced (as does the title); I can see the author’s hand too much. I was put off by Shelley Costa’s too frequent usage of unfamiliar words or phrases, some of which are not used to best advantage. For example, the main character feels a “little frisson” three times in the course of the book. My distaste for the author’s application of her obviously extensive vocabulary is ironic because I love learning new words. Her manipulation of the characters within her plot structure are also too obvious.
I particularly enjoyed the character Tali, a young, orthodox Jewish teenage girl of independent and perceptive mind. Although her role is minor, she adds spice and a little humor. There is also a character who is a Jewish professor. In sections involving these characters, there are a number of Hebrew words. These references added interest for me and their usage seemed natural.
The weakest part of this plot is the cult that is the center of the mystery. The fifty handpicked, highly educated followers are known as the High Council. They seem unaware of the cult doctrine which, besides the basic principle, is never actually expanded on for the reader either. I find that an unbelievable scenario. Costa presented no persuasive information to convince me that these people would follow their leader Animus, the “soul of their secret organization,” without questioning the soundness of his unorthodox and esoteric philosophy.
There are definitely gaps in this story for the reader to complete. On the other hand, there are some interesting characters and good twists to the mystery. One of the perks of A Killer’s Guide to Good Works is the further development of Val Cameron’s persona and the introduction of Greta, the aunt who raised her. I liked the first book in the series well enough to give the author the benefit of the doubt and read a third before making a judgement about the series.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.