REVIEW: BUTCHER, BAKER, CANDLESTICK TAKER (SPOKANE CLOCK TOWER MYSTERIES #1)
HOW I RATED IT
5/5 As much as I may love the classic tropes and formulas associated with murder mysteries, I found this more character-focused approach combined with the historical aspects to be such a fun and refreshing take on the genre.
In most detective fiction, the crime and the mystery around it take center stage, but in BUTCHER, BAKER, CANDLESTICK TAKER, the character work is what really steals the show. The story is told from multiple perspectives, shifting between Detective Bernard Carew, Officer Thomas Carew, Mariam, Archie, and Eleanor, while also giving us little glimpses into the thieving pursuits of the "Red Rogue." Although the twins, Bernard and Thomas, are the only characters officially "working" the murder case, all of the other POV characters play an important part in solving it. Patricia Meredith's approach to the cast is rather unique for this type of mystery story in that we get to spend a good amount of time with the characters as they simply go about their day. While that may not sound as exciting as having everything and everyone revolve around the core mystery with a singular focus, I will just say that nothing here is done without purpose. Little details you may not think are important will come back later and through spending so much more time with so many of the characters I ultimately found myself much more invested in the mystery itself and also found that the resolution felt quite believable.
At the core of any detective mystery is the crime that has been committed and the process of figuring out who the guilty party or parties are. It's usually pretty hard to talk about this aspect without spoiling anything, but I can say that I really liked how Meredith laid things out in this regard. Having the police/detective characters be more focused on solving the mystery made sense and I enjoyed the dynamic between the Carew Twins. I also liked the more grounded approach to how they were represented as identical twins, since most fictional portrayals of twin siblings tend to be a bit off, almost like the author/writer has never actually met a set of twins and is just captivated by how similar they are in appearance. The way that other types of people are represented was also refreshingly done with particular standouts being a blind blacksmith and Detective Carew's wife. It's clear that the author has a great deal of empathy and understanding for people of all cultures, walks of life, and physical abilities. I also appreciated that we got to know the victim of the grizzly crime a bit before it actually happens. While this did lend itself to the opening chapter (or first ~25% of the book) feeling a little slower, the remaining 3/4 of the book ended up being much better off for that initial setup. I also found myself feeling just as invested in Marian's subplot of grieving her late grandmother or Archie's clockwork projects as I was in the actual murder that took place and I think that speaks highly to how much the character work influenced my enjoyment of the overall plot. I also felt like both the plot and the characters fit very well with the time period that this story takes place in.
Set during the early 1900s, in Spokane, Washington (USA), this is one of the select few pieces of historical fiction that I have read in the past few years. While I don't really know that part of the country well, nor would I consider myself a history buff, I really liked both the location and time period in which this was set. I especially appreciated the author's notes at the end of the book on what was accurate to the place and time as well as where she took some liberties for the sake of the story. I was also really interested to find out which of the characters were from recorded history and which ones were original creations. I enjoyed learning a bit about this time period and location and thought that it fit the story really nicely. It was also a ton of fun that the story explores a time where electricity exists, but it's just starting to be adopted and where only the very wealthy can afford to have an automobile. It's a really interesting point in time to set a story as it is both so recognizable and yet also so different from the one we live in today. I wasn't really expecting to be all that enamored with the historical aspects of this story, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts and I find myself wanting to journey back into 1900s Spokane without too much delay.
I wouldn't say there was anything in the packaging that really blew me away here. The cover and interior formatting are perfectly serviceable, but I feel pretty neutral on the trappings. It's really the story within that makes this one worth a buy/read and I have to say that the way that it is told is immaculately polished and meticulously crafted.
If you even have passing enjoyment of whodunnit-style murder mysteries, then you absolutely need to check out BUTCHER, BAKER, CANDLESTICK TAKER. Even if you are not generally a fan of the genre, you may very well appreciate how this circumvents genre norms and gives a high priority toward developing the characters as living, breathing people with their own goals and struggles (both related to and separate from the main case).
(+) Absolutely brilliant character work with loving and respectful representations of different types of people
(+) Meeting the victim before their death made me feel more invested in the mystery that unfolded after the deed had been done.
(+) Subplots that I felt just as invested in as the main mystery (though many of them may not be quite as disconnected from it as they initially seem)
(+) A compelling mystery that continuously unfolds and kept me guessing
(+) Some fun twists that will likely have lasting effects on the series as a whole
(+) A thoughtfully crafted rendition of early 1900s Spokane Washington that captured my imagination
( ) Things do wrap up rather quickly, which isn't unusual for this type of fiction, but I am also glad that there are more books to read in this series.