- Calculated Loss
- By: Linda L. Richards
- Part of the Madeline Carter series
- Rating: 3 (out of 5)
I generally don’t think of mysteries as books to review, because they are so formulaic by nature. This one follows the formula, but seems to have a bit more depth than the average fluff mystery.
The first thing I noticed in this story was the reverse of gender stereotypes between the main character, Madeline, and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Braydon. Madeline is a career-oriented, rising-star stockbroker; Braydon is a laid-back chef. There is a distinct sense in opening flashback that even if “chef” is still predominately a male profession, Braydon is the homemaker in this relationship. He cooks for his wife and even tries to bring her lunch at work at one point. Madeline gets up before dawn and lives for her work; she has come to the conclusion that Braydon is holding her back, so she divorces him.
The main part of the story takes place about ten years later, and Madeline has had a change of heart regarding her career. She’s now a day trader in Malibu, living with friends. (There is a reference that this was due to a relevant situation covered in a previous book, but I am not familiar with the series) The past rears its ugly head when she receives a call from her former sister-in-law telling her that Braydon has committed suicide.
Turns out that Braydon, too, has changed his life around, becoming a famous – and famously driven – chef with a huge food corporation. Madeline attends the funeral in Vancouver, and discovers that Braydon was no longer the person she knew. There’s not a whiff of foul play at the funeral, but after Braydon’s mother asks Madeline to look into the company’s finances, she discovers things are not what they seem. It’s a mystery, so you can probably guess the rest.
Now, I’ve read classics (I named my cat after an Agatha Christie character) and contemporary, series and stand-alones – though today’s mysteries seem to be mostly the former and seldom the latter. I’m pretty solid on the tricks. The formula is more old friend than plot device. It’s as necessary to the story as killer and victim.
Many mysteries seem to rely on character quirks to define their casts. They can be thin on detail except as it may be relevant to the storyline. Calculated Loss is relatively robust on detail, enough so that the characters generally seem more real than much of the genre. There’s still a fair amount of sketching but it works within the setting.
I found that the most intriguing part of this story was the backstory. This story focuses significantly on Madeline’s history and her relationship with Braydon. A casual reader may not notice the gender twists, and later the inversion of those twists. Madeline has become more of a woman, and Braydon more of a man. Where Madeline’s change of heart seems to have helped her become grounded, Braydon’s seems more of a devolution to spoiled child.
One thing that did strike me as unusual was the lack, otherwise, of dysfunctional relationships. Sure, Madeline and Braydon had their issues with each other, but both of their families are well-adjusted and loving. It’s another inversion of a standard trope, although one can’t say whether this is intentional. Later, broken relationships become a focus, but the core family values remain intact. Madeline calls her mother for comfort, unlike so many “strong” female characters who don’t believe in comfort.
There did seem to be a distinct theme of corporation vs. family. The entire premise of the plot revolves around Braydon’s corporation, and his family’s position within it. The family aspect, however, becomes inextricably entwined with the corporate, to the point that one can’t tell which motivation is more significant. There’s a certain devolution here, as well, as we discover Braydon’s company is far more unstable than he ever was.
Madeline is not a gumshoe, but her stockbroker background gives the story a direction that seems fresh. We read all the time about bad financial decisions in mysteries; it’s a staple motive. Rarely, however, have I seen it broken down into detail. Additionally, I learned a few things about stocks and how they work, as well as how they can be manipulated.
One of the things that fascinates me about modern mysteries in general is their fascination with place. Whether it’s a made-up small town, or a real-life big city, mystery writers are constantly hyping their setting. In this case, the author writes a glorious paean to Vancouver, especially Stanley Park. Though the park is irrelevant to the plot, and the story could actually have been set anywhere, the setting is probably the strongest detail in the book.
I admit a certain lack of understanding as to why location is the most prominent feature even in mysteries where it’s not relevant. It lends a lot of character to the story without actually impacting the characters, which could be the reason. I don’t disagree with the practice; it really can heighten what might otherwise be a not-great story. I just have to wonder why that is the detail of choice.
There are obvious flaws, however. The author is extremely fond of repetition, particularly triplicate (“location, location, location”) and alliteration. There are grammar errors, and sentences that could do with fine-tuning. Overall, the writing is good, but the editing needs some work.
As a mystery, Calculated Loss is well-done, and a step above the average fluff mystery. As a book, it’s average but not mediocre, if that makes any sense. It’s not a brilliant genius book, but it’s not intended to be. It does what it’s meant to do, and it does it fairly well. Worth reading.