REVIEW: Murder at Midnight . . . On a Sailboat

~ By Toni Linenberger

My friend Frank Calcagno wrote a book.  Actually he wrote three, but who’s counting?  (Apparently he’s up to four, darn him.)  The fact he wrote them while working full-time, raising a family, and generally being an all-around nice guy means we will try not to hate him.  Did I mention his daughter got married last summer?  I don’t, hate him that is.  I do however, admire his work ethic.  I would like to be disciplined enough to write books the way he does.  But I digress.

Frank’s latest book is Murder at Midnight . . . On a Sailboat.  It is billed as a comedic mystery; a romance; and a beach read.  It is none of these.  Trust me, I asked my mom and she agrees.  The book, sadly, isn’t selling well.  I’m thinking the billing has quite a lot to do with it, and have been left with a lot of questions as to how genres are defined.

It is a good book.  There’s a story and a resolution and change:  all those nifty things you look for in a good book.  However, if you are going into it looking for romance and comedy and mystery, you’re not really going to get it.  That’s when the disappointment sets in.  Mom said she almost stopped reading because she was expecting a beach read and wasn’t getting one.  (I’m not actually sure what constitutes a beach read to my mother, I’ve never asked.  I somehow think her definition and mine might be a little different.)

Yes, there is a beach.  The story takes place on a lovely island no one has ever heard of and certainly doesn’t remember the name of.

Yes, there is a mystery.  The story includes a dead body – sort of – and an attempt to discover the manner of death.

Yes, there is a romance.  The protagonists of the story are on their honeymoon.

No, this is not a [insert name of favorite beach read author here] beach read.  Admittedly I am not much of a beach girl (too fair skinned) but my vacation reads tend towards Suzanne Brockmann, Vicki Lewis Thompson, and Allison Brennan.  I think that means I’m not really qualified to judge a beach read.  Let’s just leave it as I know it when I see it.

No, there is not a great denouement where the detective solves the murder and exposes the crime.

No, there is a not a great romance where the hero and heroine experience a great change that brings them closer together.  They are on their honeymoon, and there is a great telling of the back story.  Torture of characters, not so much.  (You do remember from above that I’m a Brockmann fan, right?  No one does torture of characters like she does.)

So what is it?  As an ebook there is no back cover copy.  The Smashwords description says:

Norman and Kathy see their dream honeymoon turn into a nightmare on a resort filled with incompetent staff. Trying to salvage something worthwhile out of their dismal trip, they sign up for a murder mystery cruise on a small Italian yacht. After all, how could things get any worse? Join Norman and Kathy as they set sail with an odd set of fellow vacationers on a wild romp through the Caribbean.

What this is is a good story with great characters.  The description is accurate – there are an odd set of vacationers in this book.  They are all well-developed and fun to read.  This is the vacation no one wants to have.  In a way it is like a train wreck:  you just can’t look away.

Is it a comedy?  Yes, I’ll give the cover copy that.  There are some truly funny moments as Norman and Kathy try to navigate the disaster of a honeymoon and the start of their new life together.

It is the story of growth and change and melding two lives and two families together.  With a devious urchin thrown in for excitement.  Norman and Kathy don’t always get what they want.  But then again, who does?

Frank usually writes science fiction / young adult.  This is a foray into something new and different.  The chance to see an author explore something new to them is what makes this book so interesting.

Is this book going to make best reads of the year lists?  Sadly, no.  It is going to make the list of things I’m proud of my friends for?  You bet.

Readers, what do you consider a beach read? Have you ever been disappointed because a book’s back cover copy doesn’t truly represent the story? Why is genre such an important aspect of marketing?

Toni is an historian and published technical writer who is slowly venturing into the blogosphere with thought-provoking reviews on romance and mysteries.  One day she hopes she will be able to turn her attention to writing the Great American Novel.  Toni lives with the most spoiled cat on the planet (Lincoln) and his sister (Abby) in a house filled with wine, chocolate, and, of course, books.

4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Murder at Midnight . . . On a Sailboat”

  1. Chris,
    That’s a great comment. I agree that author reputation is key. I read anything CJ Cherryh writes (and if you enjoy speculative fiction, you should check her out). Good point about situational comedy. I’d put my book in the National Lampoon/Chevy Chase category … if it can go wrong, it will go wrong…

  2. A beach read, for me, is any book I can get lost in. And I can get lost across the board–in the past year, Chris Cleave’s literary hit Little Bee; Rick Riordan’s YA series, beginning with The Red Pyramid; Lisa Lutz’s Spellman family series.

    Genre doesn’t sell me a book. It’s the characters that captivate me. Reviews and recommendations from friends push me into must-have mode. Once I like an author, I’ll buy/read everything that author produces.

    Maybe this book’s jacket copy should focus on who the characters are and what challenges they face. It sounds like a situation comedy. Maybe a comparison would help the reader–is it like a National Lampoon/Chevy Chase vehicle? Or like a Seinfeld-imagined honeymoon?

  3. Toni,
    First, thanks for the review. I thought you captured the story very well. Genres are so specific that when an author explores a new realm, (s)he is left with difficult choices. Choose an incorrect one and exposure suffers. Choose an unpopular one and sales suffer even more so. Murder … on a Sailboat is a story I wrote while trying to break some of the traditional rules. It is a story of love from a man’s perspective (not a love story – that’s different). Men see the world differently (gee, who would have thought!) — the world is black and white and should conform to their well-worn perceptions. Women … are more forgiving (except when it comes to men, of course). That’s the story I tell, with liberal doses of comedy mixed in. A clunky male sees his honeymoon (and life) through a distorted mirror his wife cannot understand, yet somehow they bond so tightly they will never grow apart. How can that be? You see, I’ve been married to a beautiful woman for over 30 years, and it baffles me how we remain perfectly in love when I see blackness and she sees hope. Is it a “romance?” No, just life. And if you enjoy the ride, who cares what it’s called. Jeff, what can I say? Think of a comedy to the far left, and a romance even farther to the right, and point Cupid’s arrow somewhere in between. Hmmm, maybe all of you should buy the book and tell me what it is! (See, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity …) You can contact me through my website. Oh, and to all, a Happy Valentine’s Day!

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