Lorena McCourtney’s “Dying to Read”: a sleuth-in-progress

This book review was completed on behalf of Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Cate Kinkaid never thought her life would take the curvy path that it has. Everything was going well. Life was steady; her faith life was solid. She had a good job, and was engaged to marry the man God created for her. Within a short period of time all of that changed. It was like life put her through a spin cycle, and she exited disoriented and wobbly. Even Cate’s hair is messed up. Red spikes pointing neither here nor there are a metaphor for how unruly her life has become.

With neither job nor other options available, Cate accepts the gracious invitation of her Uncle Joe to move to Eugene, Oregon. She may live with him and her Aunt Rebecca, and assist him in his private investigation business. This is only temporary, Cate assumes, until she can find a “real” job and a place of her own.

Cate’s first (and only, she hopes) assignment is to find a missing person on behalf of a client. All she needs to do is locate a woman named Willow Bishop, and her work is done. Uncle Joe assured her that this would be an easy, open-and-shut case, nothing complicated like murder. He was dead wrong.

So begins the first book of Lorena McCourtney’s new Christian mystery series, Dying to Read (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Books, August 2012). The award-winning author of the Ivy Malone Mystery series brings to life a new and unlikely heroine in Cate Kinkaid.

As messy as she is, Cate is a lovable character. Perhaps we come to love and relate to her because of her brokenness. From the beginning of the book Cate is in over her head. She often stumbles into things, and pokes her nose where it does not belong in a Jessica Fletcher-type way. This gets her into all sorts of trouble. Cate climbs a tall tree in order to help Willow down and injures herself on the way down. She scopes out the hiding location of a woman she suspects, trespasses on private property to talk to her, and winds up being shot at with a gun. The head injury Cate receives from that escapade teaches her nothing. When she is caught eavesdropping later in the book, Cate is punished by being gagged, tied up, and placed into the trunk of a car. Her captors’ plan is to take her to the edge of town and kill her. Cate is released from this debacle, only to return (for the umpeenth time) to the scene of the crime, this time for the climax of the book. Cate and Willow is are locked into the closet of the deceased person’s house, which is then set on fire by the murderer.

(No spoiler alert needed. I’m not gonna tell ya whodunit!)

Ms. McCourtney writes with the skill of an experienced author. She ends each chapter with suspense, and the reader desires to turn the page. Her scenic descriptions paint word pictures that aid the reader in placing her or himself into the story.

There are two areas, however, in which I was left wanting.

Overall, I was disappointed with Cate Kinkaid. While Ms. McCourtney does have Cate grow as the story progresses, at the end she remains a damsel in distress. Mitch Berenski is Cate’s love interest. He is a handyman-for-hire who doesn’t need the money due to success in the high-tech industry. Mitch comes across as a perfectly chivalrous gentleman who is kind-hearted and service-oriented. The problem is the combination of his chivalry and Cate’s chaos. To Cate’s (Ms. McCourtney’s) credit, she does push back on Mitch when he crosses the gentleman line and patronizes her. However, the consistent dynamic between Cate and Mitch is her ineptitude and his saving efforts. It seems that throughout the book Mitch must save Cate from practically everything, including herself. At the end of the book Cate displays professional maturity (she decides to become a private investigator in earnest), but not personal. She declares to Mitch that “a guy always ready to gallop to the rescue” is “just what every PI needs” (313). Honestly, I believe that self-confidence, good instinct, and savvy interrogation skills would serve a PI better.

Also, Ms. McCourtney somewhat jarringly drops a character from the storyline. Coop Langston is a secondary antagonist. He is the client who hired Uncle Joe’s agency to find Willow Bishop, albeit under a fake identity and story. It is he and Willow who catch Cate eavesdropping; and it is he who decides to gag, bind, kidnap, and kill Cate, as she has learned too much. McCourtney does an excellent job of painting Coop as a self-centered and shady character who isn’t running on all four cylinders. The scene in which he catches Cate is rich with creative tension, as is Willow and Coop’s discussion about what to do with Cate.

As they drive out-of-town with Cate in the trunk of the car, Willow is able to convince Coop to stop, and then secretly help Cate escape. (Willow was feigning agreement with Coop’s psycho plan in hopes of tricking him and assisting Cate.) After instructing Cate to run and hide, Willow comments that Coop will probably kill her once he discovers that Cate is gone. Cate’s escape is successful. Mitch comes and rescues her.

Strangely, this is the last we hear of Coop. Somehow Willow evades him, and the reader doesn’t learn the specifics about that, either. The story simply moves on towards the climax, and the Coop/Willow cliffhanger remains unresolved.

As much as my hope is that Cate Kinkaid is a sleuth-in-progress who has yet to come into her own, I hope that Ms. McCourtney’s Cate Kinkaid series is also a work-in- progress. There are certainly bugs to work out. I enjoyed Ms. McCourtney’s writing enough that I would give the second book a try. At the very least, I love the Christian message woven in here and there. I am certainly cheering for Ms. McCourtney and Cate.

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