Calling Rupert Holmes accomplished doesn’t even seem to come close to recognizing his achievements. Not only has he won the Edgar Award for Best Play twice (for The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Accomplice), but he also has a successful career as a novelist (Where the Truth Lies, among others), a film and television writer (Remember WENN, among others), a songwriter (“Escape-The Pina Colada Song,” among others), and more. Now, with his third novel—Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide, Vol. 1—Rupert Holmes seems destined to be the name on the lips of crime fiction aficionados worldwide once again. For the sake of the review, let’s call it Murder Your Employer, but the significance of the sub-title should not be overlooked.
The first thing readers will notice after getting past the stunningly beautiful and evocative cover design is that the end pages contain a very elaborate map depicting the grounds of The McMasters Conservatory. This review could stop here and many readers would already be ordering this novel for their collection. Fortunately, the quality of the novel itself more than rivals the incredible production design on display.
Before the narrative itself begins, readers are presented with a glossary of terms accompanied by their favored definition. For example, it is explained that at The McMasters Conservatory the preferred term for “murder” is “deletion.” There are six terms in total and understanding them and their relationship to each other will enhance the reader’s experience. This section is followed by a Forward, in which the philosophy, history, and tenents of The McMasters Conservatory are outlined and explained. In short, the facility is very similar to most finishing schools except that the goal and aim of the gained education is to master the art of homicide. As stated in the book, it is a finishing school that teaches one how to “finish” people off.
At this point the narrative itself begins. Readers become privy to the contents of the private journal of Cliff Iverson. Cliff has a major conflict with his employer at Woltan Industries. After a botched attempt at killing off his adversary, Cliff is granted admission to The McMasters Conservatory by way of a grant (patronage) from an unknown source. In the first quarter of the novel, readers hear about Cliff’s bumpy first days at the new learning academy before he settles in and begins to enjoy the various lesson on such topics as poisons, eroticide, weapons, and more.
Readers were informed in the forward that the story itself would focus on the unique journeys of three different students. Cliff being the main one, gets the most attention. But his path does intersect with the other two focal students: Gemma Lindley and Dulcie Mown. Between the three of them, readers get a complete picture of what education is like at The McMasters Conservatory. Everything culminates at the mid-point of the novel at the annual “Track Meet”—an action-packed setpiece that moves all the players—both students and teachers— that readers have met around the chess board and sets up the second half of the novel, which will focus on life outside of The McMasters Conservatory and the students attempts to reach graduation (which basically means successfully killing their chosen target.)
Murder Your Employer is a hilarious novel. Like much of Rupert Holmes’ work, it is filled with laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a bit like a complex cocktail comprised of clever wordplay, witty (and dry, like your favorite vermouth) humor, and nostalgia for a bygone era. There are endless puns, jokes, and enough humorous asides to fill successful sets for several comedians. All juxtaposed against the very serious act of murder. And make no mistake about it, the lessons on how to get away with this most heinous of crimes are so detailed and realistic, one would be forgiven for closing the book each evening thinking “yeah, I think I could get away with murder.”
The “Vol. 1” in the book’s subtitle hints at much more to come. And with the plethora of students and a multitude of motives, Rupert Holmes may have just stumbled upon the near-perfect milieu for a long-running series. And that is good news for readers, indeed. Make sure that Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide, Vol. 1 finds its way onto your to-be-read pile—after all it’s better to be the hunter than the hunted, and you never know who is holding a grudge.
Disclaimer: A finished copy of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.