On Borrowed Crime, by Kate Young

10 Oct
Watercolor-like illustration of a library, with bookcases and a large window in the background, and a desk with books, an old fashioned desk lamp, a magnifying glass, files, books, a mini recorder, and anonymous threatening notes scattered over the blotter on the desk in the foreground.

I had originally planned to read Ms Young’s Crime for the Books, the most recent title in this series; however, I realized that I have ARCs for the first two books, and since I have a thing about reading order, here we are.

Once again, I had not realized this series is narrated in first person past tense; I have a feeling a lot of the cozy mysteries in my TBR ARCs are going to be like this, and I should work to make my peace with it.

Reader beware: some graphic gruesomeness; whiteness (maybe one PoC character, though their race is not specified); old drunkard being a creepy lecher; a whole lot of class privilege; whiffs of domestic and/or intimate partner violence.

On Borrowed Crime, by Kate Young

This is the first novel in the Jane Does Book Club trilogy and the first thing I’ve ever read by Ms Young; despite a few quibbles, it will definitely not be the last.

There are two currents in the narrative, both of which worked beautifully for me. One, the slightly ditzy and inexperienced, but passionate, amateur dealing with real life murder (and the inherent danger thereof); second, the quasi-Southern Gothic themes of an apparently perfect well-to-do small town, and all the secrets, some generational, that everyone keeps.

Here’s the blurb:

The Jane Doe book club enjoys guessing whodunit, but when murder happens in their midst, they discover solving crimes isn’t fun and games…

Lyla Moody loves her sleepy little town of Sweet Mountain, Georgia. She likes her job as receptionist for her uncle’s private investigative firm, her fellow true crime obsessed Jane Doe members are the friends she’s always wanted, and her parents just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. But recently, with her best friend Melanie on vacation, and her ex-boyfriend and horrible cousin becoming an item and moving in next door to her, her idyllic life is on the fritz. The cherry on top of it all is finding Carol, a member of the club, dead and shoved into a suitcase, left at Lyla’s front door.

Unusual circumstances notwithstanding, with Carol’s heart condition, the coroner rules Carol’s death undetermined. But when they discover the suitcase belongs to Melanie, who had returned from her vacation the following morning, Sweet Mountain police begin to suspect Lyla’s best friend. Determined that police are following the wrong trail, to clear her friend’s name, and to not allow Carol become one of the club’s studied cold cases, Lyla begins to seek out the real killer. That is, until she becomes the one sought after. Now, finding the truth could turn her into the killer’s next plot twist, unless she wins the game of cat and mouse.

The beginning of the book is a bit uneven for me; for one, there is a lot of unnecessary information in the first few pages. We get things like a crash course on privileged white Southernness (women never leave home without their handbags and are never seen without full makeup; no white after Labor Day; ‘ladies don’t make scenes’, and so on), along with too much description, including brand names, cars, how many rooms a house has, how old it is, specific objects inside, etc. Seriously, we get detailed descriptions of pretty much every space she enters, even when all she does is sit to read something.

Then there’s the fact that Lyla felt quite young to me for a long time; even after we are told that she’s actually 31, she reads like an immature 20 to 22 year old. There are some reasons for this, but it’s jarring to have a woman over 30 having to repeat, to herself and almost everyone around her, that she’s “an independent woman”, capable of taking care of herself and making decisions about her life. (see footnote 1)

The premise of the plot is that Lyla is obsessed with crime, both fiction and non; she works for her uncle not just to earn a living, but in hopes of eventually becoming his partner. It follows easily that she would belong to a book club devoted to mysteries and true crime, and, given there are only a handful of other members, that she would be reasonably good friends with them all.

Keeping in mind that I’m reviewing from an uncorrected proof, I have to say that the scene where we meet the other “Jane Does” is confusing; it’s also the one place where the descriptions are perfunctory (I believe one of them may be Black, but I’m still not sure, after finishing the whole novel). At any rate, it took me a bit to be able to differentiate between them.

And then, one of the Janes is murdered, and Lyla happens to…well, not so much ‘find a body’ as have it deposited at her doorstep at about 10% in, and the story picks up steam from there.

There are a few moments throughout the book where Lyla goes back to acting like someone much younger and a lot less intelligent than she’s proven herself to be; with one exception, these ‘lapses’ make sense, given what we learn about her life.

My one complaint here is that there’s a lot that’s hinted at regarding Lyla’s past, but very little is actually explained, and the same goes for her mother’s and maternal uncle’s childhood and youth; at one point, the only thing that is clear is that everyone is keeping secrets, and that some of those secrets are likely to be deadly.

This contributes to the general feeling of menace, and helps obscure the identity of the killer (I knew by the time I hit 80%, but it’s not obvious, if that makes sense); the climax has enough tension and actual action to keep reading, and the resolution and actual ending were properly satisfying. I particularly like that Lyla rescues herself while still being imperfect and occasionally ditzy.

On Borrowed Crime gets 7.75 out of 10.

(I was pleased to learn that we learn a lot more about Lyla’s mother’s secrets in the next book, Reading Between the Crimes. The third novel in the series, Crime for the Books, comes out on October 11.)

* * * * *

1 It is not addressed in the novel, though it may crop up later in the series, that Lyla’s parents have been married 50 years, yet she’s only 31–that means their marriage was childless for some 18 years. This surely has something to do with how Lyla and her parents relate, but the thing is: her parents aren’t written like people in their 70s, more like people in their mid- to perhaps late-50s.

2 Responses to “On Borrowed Crime, by Kate Young”

  1. willaful 21/10/2022 at 1:47 AM #

    70 is the new 50?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: