Ball & Chain

Author: Laura Garner (self-published)

Yeah, yeah, I accidentally picked up another self-published book again. And if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know I think they’re pretty much the most terrifying thing ever to happen to publishing. I mean, we’ve all had a few from Amazon that were, shall we say… less than wonderful? A good book has a good editor, in my opinion.

I requested Ball & Chain from Netgalley because the description sounded like a fun mystery, which I’ve been sorely lacking for a while, and because the cover is pretty. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? We all do it…

Reservations about self-publishing aside, I am super pleased to report: I loved it! I’ve had a horrible couple of weeks, very stressful, and this book was the perfect antidote. Light, fun, sweet, a little teaser for the brain, and I came away feeling relaxed and refreshed. Is that what good writing is supposed to do?

Ball & Chain is a classic first-person PI mystery with a strong female lead, and plenty of romantic sub-plot to keep you entertained while you try to figure out “who dunnit”. This is a fun, character-ful, sunny read which will keep you hooked until the end. Apparently, it’s the third in a series (which I did not know until I started writing this review), but this didn’t make a lot of difference to me while reading it. It felt standalone, but like it should have been a series. If that makes any sense… I’m just pleased there’s more of them, to be honest! I was a bit gutted when I thought there was only one…

I will say, I have two criticisms. The first one being, the beginning of this book isn’t the strongest. Initially, the main character and detective, Maddie, just didn’t appeal. She seemed a little cliché with her emotional issues and loner lifestyle, and was emoting all over the show about her personal problems. Which, I still think, were a little overdone. Not my cup of tea. However, I persevered, and by the end was completely enamoured. She’s brave, impulsive, strong, smart, funny, flawed, and very cagey. Everything you want in a detective in this genre. And I found myself really enjoying her company. I wanted a happy ending for her. So if you read it and have the same issue – persevere. You’ll end up loving her. I think, perhaps, if I’d read the previous two books I wouldn’t have had an issue anyway – it would have been more a summing up of what happened before.

The mystery itself is fast-paced, a little dark at points, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. It’s a classic plot, with all the familiar tropes you’d expect from, say, an Agatha Christie or a Sue Grafton. To my mind, it’s just lighter, less gritty, than a Sue Grafton. Way more Americanised than an Agatha Christie. A little more popular women’s fiction than either. Trisha Ashley meets Sue Grafton, who had a book-baby with Agatha Christie. It’s well-written and very entertaining. I read it in about three hours, in one sitting. I really, really wanted to know what happened and I was gripped from start to finish.

There is a religious sub-text to the plot. I couldn’t quite get a handle on the author’s view on the subject. The main character mocks and despises religion, and what in England we call “Bible bashers” – you know, people that ram their religious beliefs down your throat. Often on the street, accompanied by a pamphlet and some guilt. But she seems to come around to accepting people with different beliefs, to come to terms with how her past history has affected her, and mellows and grows by the end of the book. I thought it was an interesting way of delivering character development. And I like that a final view on the subject is left up to the reader.

The language is very colloquial, which is pretty much standard for first person mysteries in this genre. It gives the characters definition and flavour. The other characters are not overly fleshed out, which, again, is very standard for this genre. I really don’t think you want Dickens level depth in every supporting actor in this context, there just has to be enough to give them meaning to the reader; which definitely was the case with Ball & Chain.

My second criticism really goes to worldbuilding. I want to know more, damn it! There isn’t enough descriptive prose to get a really tactile sense of the landscape in which the mystery is set. One of the things I love so much about the Sue Grafton books is the evocative sense of the world, and I really wanted that here. That being said, how much descriptive prose is there really in many mysteries? I just liked the story so much, I found myself wanting more.

The big question: did I guess the killer? And the answer is yes, but I wasn’t absolutely sure until the very end. Which made me feel both smart and strangely fulfilled…

I would be genuinely delighted if the author writes another Maddie Maxwell mystery and I’m definitely going back to read the first two (I Ain’t Superstitious and Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness). Ball & Chain really was a great read, and some much needed light relief. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

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