Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The latest Oz reading

This is going to be a difficult book for me to review, because I've known Robin Hess, author of L. Frank Baum and the Perfect Murder, for most of my life now, and a pretty good chunk of his as well (and he's not shy about mentioning that he's now in his eighties). Robin and I even roomed together one year at Winkies when neither of our wives could come. So I may be a little more willing to forgive some of the little errors that creep into self-published books like this, and I'll just mention a handful in passing: One major character's hair changes from brown to black, the dates of the first two bits of prologue have the evidence discovered several months before the actual murder is committed, the chapter numbering gets all pear-shaped at one point, and L. Frank Baum's wife's maiden name is given as Gauge, not Gage. There are a few other little errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, that sort of thing, also.

Now that that's out of the way, I can tell you about the story itself. This is a fun little mystery story set in the latter years of the nineteenth century. Young L. Frank Baum is a struggling actor and budding journalist living in New York City. He stumbles across something of a mystery in his new roommate, a foundling who lived on the streets before breaking into the theater. Could Willie be a missing heir whose parents were murdered fourteen years ago? It's a tightly plotted and well-woven story, with all kinds of intrigue, and Frank turns out to be a pretty good detective. I won't give away too much, of course, but I, for one, enjoyed it. It reminded me of many of the Mary Louise books that Baum wrote as Edith Van Dyne, or some of his other mysteries. True, there are a few cases of wild coincidence, but that's the sort of thing one expects in stories like this. However, the Oz content is pretty slight. This is set long before Frank ever dreamed he'd make his fortune as a writer of fiction, let alone Royal Historian of Oz, but there are a few allusions, and hints of things to come. But strictly speaking, it's not an Oz book, merely a curiosity. Frank didn't have to be L. Frank Baum; he could have been any character. (While Frank's background in the story is more or less accurate, the story itself, and much of what Frank does in it, is wholly made up.) So while I do recommend this book (if only to support an old friend — but that's not the only reason for the recommendation!), I'll understand if your Oz book-buying funds are limited, and you'd rather focus on getting something Ozzier. And to be honest, I think Robin would, too.

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