The Murder House by James Patterson, David Ellis, authors; Therese Plummer and Jay Snyder, narrators.
Patterson may not be the most eloquent writer of classics, but when it comes to murder mysteries, he has hit this one out of the park. You will be on the edge of your seat in spite of the trite dialogue and often shallow characters, from the first page until the last, as this diabolical murderer is pursued. The story begins in Bridgehampton in 1995, with a 12-year old shooter at a school. It then fast forwards into 2011 when two bodies are found in a mansion that is known as the murder house, “the house that no one ever leaves alive, the house at 7 Ocean Drive”. As the narrative proceeds, several unsolved murders involving the mansion are revealed.
In that same year, that the latest gruesome murder took place, Jenna Murphy, a detective in New York City, discovers corruption on the police force and reports it to her boss. She is then framed and is forced to resign or face an investigation on trumped up charges that she cannot refute or disprove. She committed the cardinal sin of disgracing the force. Her uncle, Langdon James, the police chief in Bridgehampton, offers her a job to get her out from under the mess she found herself. If she resigns, there will be no investigation of the false charges; no battle, that she would surely lose; the fix was in, working against her. Absent her uncle’s opportunity, she would probably never work in law enforcement again, so she accepts his offer. When she arrives back in Bridgehampton, a place she had not been to since she was a child, she begins to have visions and nightmares about something she cannot identify, especially when she passes or enters the murder house at 7 Ocean Drive. Her dreams terrify her.
7 Ocean Drive was a mansion that was originally owned by Malcolm Dahlquist. His descendants, for six succeeding generations, were all afflicted with a sadistic madness that they could not control. It was thought that the Dahlquist ancestry ended with the murder of the sixth Dahlquist in the line, but when the bodies of two brutally murdered townspeople turn up in an upstairs bedroom, new suspicions are aroused as the investigation proceeds.
The circumstantial evidence soon points to Noah Walker, a handyman, since the murder victim, Melanie, had recently broken off her relationship with Noah in order to date the man with whom she was found murdered. Witnesses had observed Noah angrily arguing with her. He had also worked on the mansion’s upkeep and had access to “the murder house” property. Jenna Murphy, the new detective on the force is in charge of the arrest which takes him down, but is then ordered to stay out of any further investigation. Her uncle tells her that Noah is guilty, that he has confessed, and therefore, there is no further need to look anywhere else; he is their man. Will Noah be the serial killer that they eventually uncover? Who is Holden?
The murder mystery in Bridgehampton twists and turns, often confounding the reader. It is hard to figure out who the real killer or killers might be. There is so much sleight of hand and trompe-l’oeil that I am quite certain most readers will bounce around from character to character as each new clue is provided, first accusing one and than another, but I would be surprised if anyone guessed the entire story.
Jenna’s New York City frame-up, for a crime she denied, foreshadowed other corruption that occurs as the story moves forward. It is hard not to get the feeling that the justice system is flawed and the cops are sometimes corrupt. For the person in charge, it is easy to make false accusations and back them up with planted evidence. The person with wealth can make things happen, impact promotions and elections. There are always those, for a price, that are eager to do the bidding of someone who wishes to influence the outcome of events in some way. Arrests and even trials can become nothing more than staged events with which to influence a jury. It is difficult to disprove invented scenarios and false accusations. The trial portion of the book is interesting as it points out how easy it is to corrupt the system with lies, bribes and payoffs, how easy it is to frame someone with circumstantial evidence and false witnesses.
Jenna Murphy seemed to me to be the weakest link in the book because she was simply not credible as a seasoned detective. She often behaved impulsively, like a rookie, and her deductions were often very naive. In spite of the hackneyed dialogue, though, the story is an exciting, nail-biting experience, and any reader that enjoys a good mystery will not be disappointed. Take this book with you to someplace you go to relax, on vacation, to the beach, to the hammock on the back porch, and lose yourself in a tense, well designed mystery that will hold you fast.