Review of “Mortal Friends” by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

I thought this book was a total waste of time. So the first question of course, is why did I react that way? And next: why did I read it? A summary of the plot should provide you with an answer to the first question.

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The protagonist is a 43-year-old divorced owner of an antiques shop who is named “Reven” or “never” spelled backwards (her parents “never” thought they would have her). She’s incredibly self-absorbed (although not as much as the other characters!) and not given to humility. This is how she describes herself in prep school:

“I was seductive, no question. But I was also very nice to everyone, which is why people like me. And to be honest, I was gorgeous – a Valkyrie among trolls.”

And her opinion of herself didn’t diminish much over the years.

The book is set in Washington, D.C. and involves the glitterati of the city: the very rich and powerful, who, it seems, are also very shallow, superficial, obsessed with protocol and popularity. (Now there’s a surprising plot twist!) In fact, there are only two appealing characters in the book, but both of these are “outsiders.”

As the story begins, Reven’s best friend Violet is thrilled to find that her obsession with serial killers is paying off by virtue of a new outbreak of murders in area parks. (Apparently it takes something out of the ordinary to interest the glitterati.) We learn about this fixation as we follow Reven and Violet around to concerts, dinners, parties, fashion fittings for the same, and other similar “quotidian” activities of movers and shakers. Attempts to sidetrack the reader from identifying the real killer are clumsy and obvious, and the killer’s confession speech is laughable. The dialogue in general lacks sophistication for all the would-be high achievements of the characters.

In sum, the characters aren’t likeable; the plot is inconsequential; the dialogue is trite, and the mystery is no mystery at all.

So why did I read it?

I enjoy mysteries set in cities I love; I like recognizing the streets and restaurants and haunts and traffic patterns. I was born in the D.C. area and love that city. My family is still there, and I have many good memories there. You never know when a scene in a book set in D.C. will resonate with your own experience.

Compare any book by George Pelecanos, who stories also take place in D.C. He can be harsh and coarse, but his characters are realistic and his plots are complex. And best of all, in one of his books, a police car was staked out in the very shopping center where I buried my parakeet Tweety and my goldfish Goldy! (Okay, so I wasn’t very original when it came to names.) (And as you can well imagine, I was freaking out: ARE THEY PARKING ON TWEETY AND GOLDY?!!!!) Those moments of serendipity can make a book worth reading. But in this case, there were few redeeming qualities.

Evaluation: If you’re looking for an intelligent mystery in which people are not who they seem to be, skip this one; there are plenty of better options on the market.

Rating: 2/5

Published by Harper, 2009

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19 Responses to Review of “Mortal Friends” by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

  1. Julie P. says:

    LOL! You review made my morning! I think we all scratch our heads sometimes over the books we pick up!

  2. Jenny says:

    I completely understand. I have watched the most idiotic movies just because they’re set in/were filmed in Louisiana.

  3. Nymeth says:

    Is it evil of me to say I kind of like it when you read bad books? It’s that when you do, the reviews are always awesome 😀 Not that your positive reviews aren’t also awesome, but you know what I mean 😛

  4. We all read unintelligent books once in a while. Nothing wrong within that.

    Few of the times we might enjoy those too.

    Read whatever you want! And tell us!

    😀

  5. Steph says:

    I love books set in cities that I know as well! I am sure it drives some people crazy because they try to nitpick everything, but I just find books all the more evocative when they mention a street or a well-known establishment that I’ve actually been to.

    I would probably have passed on this book just based on the protagonist’s name. Reven? The explanation for it doesn’t make it any more ok! I realize that’s a shallow reason not to read a book… and yet this book sounds horrifically shallow anyway! I will avoid at all costs!

  6. Out of all the blog posts I read this week I’m going to remember this one. I agree with Nymeth – it’s so much fun for us when you read a bad book.

    I’ve done the same thing with books and movies set in places I know well. It adds to my enjoyment, provided the book or movie is good to begin with.

  7. I just loved the first line of your review. I don’t think I could have finished it, even if it did take place in a city I love.

    –Anna

  8. bermudaonion says:

    Yeah, I don’t think that’s my kind of book either. Thanks for the review.

  9. Ceri says:

    Yikes, sorry to hear this one wasn’t to your taste. I’m not really one for mysteries so I’ll probably be avoiding it anyway. I love that you’re not afraid to give your opinion though – too many bloggers are afraid of offending people if they don’t like their books.

  10. Belle says:

    That’s one of the best first lines in a review I’ve ever read.

  11. Janelle says:

    Uh, OK! This will go on my “reven” read list.

  12. Jenners says:

    Best opening line to a book review ever!!! : )
    And I have “No One You Know” on my TBR list!

  13. softdrink says:

    Am I the only one wondering why Goldy and Tweety are buried in a shopping center? Was it built after the burials, or did you sneak into the shopping center in the middle of the night to dig graves?

  14. Softdrink,

    Thank you for thinking of Goldy and Tweety. I don’t remember why they were buried in the shopping center, but I believe it is because I was raised a Capitalist, and saw the shopping center as Nirvana.

  15. Kelly says:

    Love the idea of giving an alternative if you’re tempted to read this one! I might just steal that… 😉

  16. Alyce says:

    Yeah, that cover would have been a total turn-off for me. But then I don’t gravitate toward mysteries. For me to read a mystery it has to really have some sort of special hook (like set in a different culture or something).

    I didn’t know you were born in DC. I have only visited DC twice, but it is one of my favorite places to visit by far. My husband and I are planning on going back again next summer without the kids, which means I can hit the art museums this time. 🙂 (Little kids just don’t enjoy spending hours staring at art.)

    Between all of the political news and the national museums, it’s never boring there.

  17. Alyce says:

    Ha ha! I just read Softdrink’s comment! 🙂 I was actually wondering why they were buried there too, but didn’t think to ask.

  18. Megan says:

    I’m sorry this one was a disappointment! I do dig that cover… glitzy and intriguing. But I’m glad I read your review before I would have gotten my hands on it — yikes!

    I love books set in D.C., too — for just the same reasons you mentioned! When done well, you can actually picture the places the author discusses… because you’ve been there. It adds an entirely new interaction with the story!

    Oh, and I totally had a goldfish named Goldy, too! She (or he?) was our pet fish in the first grade. At the end of the year, our teacher was looking for a new home for her/him, and somehow I was the lucky one to give Goldy a new home! She lived another year or so. Good times.

  19. 1. don’t hold back!
    2. yes, I also enjoy books that are set in cities I know.
    3. Thanks for clearing up the questions surrounding Goldy and Tweety’s burials. Twice you buried pets at the mall? Nirvana, indeed!

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