It is sometimes incorrectly assumed that the traditional mystery is the sole domain of the Golden Age. While it is true that many of the touchstones of the genre came from that period, there are plenty of modern mysteries that fit this mold – and in some cases expand upon it in very contemporary ways. Take for example, The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth. There is little that is cozy within this tale, and yet there is a pleasant nostalgic feel in the telling that allows it to share the same shelf space with Dame Agatha.
The Branson Beauty starts with a showboat crash in the entertainment resort town of Branson, Missouri. Hank Worth is the new sheriff in town and when he organizes a rescue party for the people on the boat, he never expects that officials will find the body of a dead teenager on-board – a death that had nothing to do with the boating tragedy and everything to do with murder.
Just as we often see in the classic traditional mysteries, Claire Booth provides a plot that has a closed circle of suspects. As Hank interviews those on the showboat who had a connection to the dead girl, Mandy Bryson, a portrait of her begins to coalesce. Readers never get to see Mandy while alive, but she is always very much the center of the story.
Another trait of traditional mysteries that Booth adheres to is her willingness to play fair with the reader. Readers know all the details that Sheriff Hank knows – just as he knows them. This allows for some armchair detective work from those readers who enjoy such pastimes.
The Branson Beauty is the start of a new series, so the setting is very important. Because of the tourist nature of the area, Booth has set herself up well to avoid the “Cabot Cove Syndrome.” While it will be a stretch if folks keep dying, at least there is a legitimate reason for an influx of new victims and suspects at regular intervals. Claire Booth’s skill at crafting individual characters will surely have readers clinging to favorites as more books in the series appear.
Another hallmark of the Golden Age authors was their ability to write novels that are very easy to read. This does not mean that they are at all simplistic; but instead that the style of the wordsmith is such that it flows very organically for the reader, never feeling like a burden. Claire Booth also shares this effortless writing style. Reading The Branson Beauty is both a leisurely walk on an Ozark lake and a full-gallop race to reach the conclusion.
This debut novel portents a lengthy career for Claire Booth and readers who enjoy the more genteel traditional style mysteries will be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying read this season.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.