Review - OLMEC OBITUARY, L.J.M. Owen
Cosy mysteries are so far from my comfort zone we could be classified as sworn enemies. Which is not to say that some haven’t worked for this particular reader. But to be fair, those that have worked normally deploy a sly, dry sense of humour, a huge dollop of self-awareness and preferably have a hefty dose of tongue in cheek. It also doesn’t hurt to have a strong plot buried in the ancillary bits and pieces that seem to be part of the cosier side of the genre.
In the OLMEC OBITUARY there is a lot of ancillary - be it family background (harmonious racial blending with a hefty dose of Welsh and Asian sensibilities, philosophies, traditions and food), romantic longing (with our heroine Elizabeth Pimms cruelly dragged from the arms of her lover to return to Australia and hold this vast and diverse family together), and a major working life dilemma. Pimms would much prefer to be an archaeologist than working in a library, despite following in her father’s much revered footsteps. Somewhere in the middle of all the ancillary there is a 3,000-year-old skeleton and a suspect cause of death that eventually seems to have been resolved.
Relying heavily on the hanging around until things sort of fall into place style of investigation seems to fit perfectly with the personality of the protagonist Elizabeth Pimms. It’s not often that a debut author takes the sort of brave step that Owen has with this character. A victim of her family’s wants and needs, after being compelled to return to keep the wolves from the door (which home it seems is big and gorgeous and been in the family for years… that’s another one of those ancillary bits and pieces), Pimms is not best-pleased by this outcome. Having her react as a kind of victim is an interesting approach to take, and one that readers will undoubtedly have a strong reaction for - or against. Surrounding this seemingly constantly complaining and persnickety character with a cast of forced eccentrics makes the contrasts even stronger giving the reader a real opportunity of taking sides very firmly.
Given that the OLMEC OBITUARY is flagged as a very cold case mystery styled novel though, there did seem to be some major deficiencies with the plot, the reasons for which were less easy to fathom. Whilst there’s a lot of excavation through the ancillary layer required to find the plot, when elements were located, they all too often coincidental, under-developed or inexplicable. In the end, what aspirations for the likelihood of a complex past crime being unearthed, quickly dissipated into the hope of something interesting or educative. In the end that felt poorly served by the litany of unresolved threads and plot holes that felt like they would require more than a little digging to fill.
Having said all of that, my first line stands - cosy and this reader have a chequered and frequently turbulent history, so perhaps OLMEC OBITUARY is aiming to attract a considerably different readership.
Yearning for her former life as an archaeologist, Australian librarian Dr. Elizabeth Pimms is struggling with a job she doesn’t want, a family she both loves and resents, and enforced separation from her boyfriend.
A royal Olmec cemetery is discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, containing the earliest writing in all the Americas. Dr. Pimms is elated to join the team investigating these Aztec ancestors. Triumph is short-lived, however, as Elizabeth’s position on the team is threatened by a volatile excavation director, contradictory evidence, and hostile colleagues. With everything working against her, will Dr Pimms find the cause of death for a 3,000-year-old athlete and those buried with her?
With the archaeological intrigue of Elizabeth Peters, forensic insight of Kathy Reichs, and comfort of a cosy mystery, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a fascinating new series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.