That said, here is my honest opinion of Kate Burns’ The Ophelia Trap, a murder-mystery which I finished reading this morning.
Characters: Kate populates her story with a well-drawn cast of characters, from familiar middle- and working-class people to the scary and violent. Back-stories and secrets abound. The novel’s protagonist, 38-year-old Julia Henry, is an energetic working mom and spouse with a moderately comfortable middle-class life. Kate gives her a strong sense of justice, a strong maternal instinct and plenty of chutzpah. Fun-loving, too – likes karaoke night. Kate’s characters are all believable, consistent and interesting. Each does his or her part to carry the story.
Plot: Looking one night through a telescope at the nearby apartment building where she previously lived with husband Matt and 4-year-old daughter Grace, Julia sees a young woman fall out an 8th-story window to her death in the snow. Is it murder or suicide? Julia’s acquaintance with the girl, Amanda; an ongoing dispute with the apartment building owners over allegedly unpaid rent; and Julia’s own sense of right and wrong pull her into trying to get to the bottom of the tragedy.
A rapist at large in the community complicates matters.
Settings: The story is set in the city of Gatineau, Quebec, in the riverside working-class community of Aylmer. It’s a winter story, with snow often falling. Kate keeps the locations real, including a visit to the historic British Hotel restaurant/night club complete with some background. Sounds like a cool place, haunted, it’s said — but what are the chances I’ll ever visit the British Hotel? Slim, so I appreciated the vicarious experience, brief as it was.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Not much, in all honesty. I would’ve liked a little more description of our main character, Julia Henry. At one point Kate lets us know Julia has some freckles. Her hair, falling past her shoulders needs cutting, so Julia thinks, and “She turned and gave her round rump one more glance. It was a couple, or a few, inches wider than at the wedding, but it was still good enough to shake it.”
Hair, eyes, freckles and rump — maybe good enough for some readers, but if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know that’s a pet peeve with me. Many of Kate’s lesser characters get as much or more description. Someone as engaging as Julia could have stood for a little more.
However, this is a minor criticism at best.
What I thought was good: Kate’s writing is solid, though occasionally set with some really sparkling turns of phrase. Amanda, before her death, gets injected with a drug, against her will, by the bad guy. She tries to maintain consciousness by opening a window:
“How could he know she was gathering her strength, fighting the slippery thing in her veins with deep breaths of winter air?”
“The slippery thing in her veins…” I loved that. It’s just good, imho.
Dialogue and action are sharp and convincing.
The story has the touch of realism — situations, relationships and emotions are not clear-cut and neat. They’re messy, and occasionally nasty. And though Kate wraps everything up and answers all the questions in the end, it’s not a totally happy ending — it’s more than tinged with regret.
Just like life.
Overall: A blurb on the book cover, from Madapples Book Review, calls The Ophelia Trap “a little gem of a mystery.” I agree, except for the “little.” It’s a full-sized mystery completely fleshed with detail and grounded in reality. So who writes a perfect story? This, like almost anything, could probably be tightened up a little here, and have a little added there, but it is emotionally true. The author knows her craft and has delivered a compelling story. I’m glad I read it.
Good job Kate!
Killer Instinct, by Zoe Sharp
Class Action, by Chris James
Happy literary trails!