The backstory: Robert Ellis is my favorite mystery writer. Murder Season is his third novel to feature Los Angeles detective Lena Gamble (he also has two stand-alone mysteries.) I adored the first two novels in this series, City of Fire (my review) and The Lost Witness (my review), immensely, and I eagerly awaited the publication of Murder Season this month. In anticipation, I re-read both City of Fire and The Lost Witness this year, and both earned 5 stars from on the re-read, even though I remembered 'who did it.' Note: because I believe this novel could work as a standalone, this review will not include any spoilers from the first two novels.
The basics: Lena gets called to investigate a brutal double murder at a hot Hollywood nightspot. Both the identity of the victims, one famous and one infamous, and the fact the two were even associated with one another, surprises everyone.
My thoughts: Admittedly, I went into this novel with high expectations. I appreciate that Robert Ellis takes time to write these mysteries (The Lost Witness was published in February 2009, so it's been almost three years), and I push this criminally underappreciated series on any mystery reader who will listen (I've converted my husband, his brother, his mother and his stepfather to the cause thus far.) I was riveted from the first scene. It was incredibly suspenseful to find out who was dead, and I knew they were fictional characters I probably didn't know.
Lena Gamble is among my favorite law enforcement characters. (Yes, I also love Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford, but historical crime solvers are in a vastly different league than a gritty L.A. detective. In my dream world, Lena would find a reason to collaborate with Manhattan D.A. Alexandra Cooper and have a fabulous cross-over, but I'm not holding my breath, just as I fear my musical dream of Nanci Griffith recording a duet with Steve Earle will never happen.) In this novel, she must work without a partner. As a narrative device, I think this move is brilliant. Instead of reading dialogue about observations, the reader largely gets Lena's thoughts. It's an unfiltered view, and it's one that bonds the reader to Lena.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe this novel could work as a stand-alone. Elllis smartly refers to cases we've seen and those we haven't. At first, when Lena mentioned her last case, I was confused, but then it became clear there wasn't a novel about her last case. Not every case she solves is filled with high stakes, surprising turns and fascinating endings. I still recommend reading the series in order, but it is refreshing to not have to be hyper-vigilant about doing so.
Robert Ellis is not a writer whose passages I copy down to recall later. He's a masterly suspenseful writer, and his sentence variation pushes the action along admirably. As I've read or re-read all three Lena Gamble novels in the past few months, I've started to notice fascinating themes in his work as well. I'll refrain from sharing them here, but now that I've spotted these themes, I'm even more eager to see where the next novel goes.
The verdict: While the ending lacks a bit of the finesse and surprise the first two novels did, this mystery still delivers from beginning to end. Ellis smartly wrote this novel as one that could stand alone.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: December 6, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Murder Season from Amazon in hardback or for the Kindle. Or, start this series at the beginning with City of Fire in paperback or for the Kindle (it's only $6.99!)
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