By Krystal Diaz
The Mountain House Murders: Playing for Blood III
By Chuck Anderson
137 pages. PublishAmerica. $24.95
Chuck Anderson has written a novel of suspense in which Mack Thomas and Sal Cascio, retired teachers turned private investigators, decide to take their wives on a golfing vacation to the legendary Mohonk Mountain House. As the golf-nut/ex-teacher PIs golf their way around the difficult courses of New Paltz, they find themselves trapped in the mountain house haven, with the only road to the resort blocked. With them a conference of finance ministers, who are attending the G20 financial conference, and are threatened by murder. One of Mack’s student teachers from the sixties turned IRA agent, notorious for being a man-eater, Scarlett Egan, shows up with the financial conference as a computer specialist for the Irish minister. Mack and Sal happen to be in the wrong place at the right time when they stumble upon international murders and their old nemesis from Scotland, Kaffir Selin, who plots to poison the fresh water supply of New York City.
This golf murder mystery has all the classic elements of what murder mysteries entail. You have the good guys (Mack and Sal) that decide to become private investigators. Wherever they go there always seem to be a mystery or crime that needs to be solved. Talk about you streak of bad luck! In Anderson’s previous novel “A Highland Fling” Mack and Sal go on a trip to Scotland, the birthplace of golf. Soon, they are knee deep in cocaine smuggling, revenge, and murder which travels from Scotland to France, Spain, and Morocco.
What makes each of the “Playing for Blood” murder mystery books so consistent is that the characters previous troubles in their last investigation follow through into the next book. Like a Lernaean Hydra, cut down one criminal and two more spring up. It seems as though neither of these characters will ever get a break. Another interesting aspect of Anderson’s murder mystery novels is …well, golf. Each investigation takes place at a golf course where Mack and Sal try to vacation at. Who would’ve thought golf was such a dangerous sport?
Much like the novels of Harlan Coben, each location is relevant to the author. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Coben uses specific settings known within the New York Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) and, Pennsylvania. For Anderson, each location takes place in places that he has vacationed at.
This thriller starts at a rapid pace and accelerates even faster. The tale jumps from day to night on the same page, which makes for a quick read. Although his novels are good for, perhaps, people on the run or have a short attention span, its hard to do justice for a murder mystery in fewer than 200 pages. What are left out of the story are the meaty, juicy details in setting, style, character development/description, and the “Hellraiser Chinese puzzle cube.” What better mystery is there than to not be able to figure it out till the very end? Harlan Coben’s “Tell No One” is loaded with numerous shocking twists and unreal turns that Coben makes believable. Thus, the audience feels compelled to keep on reading until the finale in order to learn what really happened back then and why, regardless of how many pages.
Each character has a purpose, but can it be a lasting purpose? Are such characters impressionable enough to bring the story to life, as if to say, “I could see myself having coffee with that person”? Such characters are hard to come by, let alone create. The best chance any one person can get is to pursue their alter ego, to think outside of themselves and create that spice that draws the audience. A lot, if not all, of “The Mountain House Murders” divulge a little too much into the “he said/she said” concept of daily conversations, as if to say, “This kind of thing happens more frequently then I’d like to admit but I just brush it off…now where was I?”
Although, there are many subtle (and not so subtle) references to the classic Sherlock Holmes and Watson within the novel, it leaves little the imagination of wonderment; more or less, a No?-Really?-You don’t say?-befuddlement. Like any mystery author, Anderson counts on the seemingly normal to mask a world of secrets. But when those secrets turn up everywhere, they create undifferentiated suspicion. They begin to form a consistent and predictable pattern. And then they aren’t secret anymore.
The next installment of Anderson’s “Playing for Blood” saga takes place in Italy…who will die next?