I’ve never been much of one for playing computer games, so I’ve never played RAVENHEARST, a mystery game set in the fictional English seaside town of Blackpool. But I’m more than happy to read books based on the game, the first of which, STOLEN, by Jordan Gray, has just been released.
Blackpool was the site of a famous train derailment and robbery in 1940 in which a number of people were killed, including some children of prominent British families who were sending them to the countryside so they would be safe from the German bombing attacks on London. During the confusion of the train wreck, some art treasures and a fortune in gold were stolen, and that loot was never found.
Seventy years later, a documentary film about the Blackpool wreck is about to start production, and American public relations expert Molly Graham is involved in the project. Molly lives in Blackpool with her British husband Michael, a video game designer. At a party announcing the documentary, an elderly woman who is one of the local citizens is murdered. Michael and Molly’s house is broken into that same night. Clearly, somebody doesn’t want the documentary filmmakers poking into the decades-old train wreck and robbery.
That’s just the first of several murders as Michael and Molly investigate in classic amateur sleuth fashion. The plot twists around to involve more than just what’s apparent at first, and Blackpool, like every small town in books like this, proves to have more than its fair share of dark and deadly secrets lurking in its past.
STOLEN certainly has some cozy elements, such as its setting, but it doesn’t read all that much like a cozy. I was reminded more of some of the classic mysteries that feature a husband-and-wife detective team, such as Richard and Frances Lockridge’s Mr. and Mrs. North books. (I really ought to reread some of those.) There’s also a dose of well-handled action now and then, leading up to a very satisfactory climax. Michael and Molly Graham are really appealing characters. They’re both smart and attractive (but not overly cutesy), and they’re realistic in that they don’t really want to run around solving murders and finding themselves in danger – they would just as soon turn everything over to the local cops – but somehow it works out like that anyway.
It’s no secret that veteran author Mel Odom is the one behind the Jordan Gray pseudonym on this book, and it shows in the smooth, well-paced prose and excellent plot. There are at least three more books coming up in the Blackpool series (VANISHED, November 2010; SUBMERGED, February 2011; and UNEARTHED, May 2011), and I plan to read them all.