I started 2017 with a couple of really harrowing books (one about the hideous behaviour of the Catholic Church and another about a terrorist incident). After these I needed a mental breather and plucked a couple of cosy mysteries from my pile of unread books. The second of these is eligible for my virtual tour of the USA.
This book’s central character is Meg Reed, a young college graduate who, as the book opens, is living on a friend’s couch and desperately looking for a job. Fortuitously she one day spills a coffee on the editor of an adventure magazine and he offers her a job. Meg can write and she is the daughter of one of the city’s most well-known investigative journalists, her recently deceased father, so she doesn’t bother to mention that any sports, let alone extreme ones, are not really her forté. The product reviews and other minor articles she starts out writing are easy enough but when she is tasked with covering the Portland leg of an extreme sports reality TV show things start to get more complicated.
I have a low threshold for the cutesy titles beloved by cosy mystery series but in the case of SCENE OF THE CLIMB the wordplay is relevant. Set in Oregon in the northwest of the US the book’s central events combine murder with recreational climbing in some beautiful-sounding locations. I will admit to getting sidetracked more than once as I googled Angel’s Rest and other key locations for the story’s set pieces. It’s a part of the US I have not yet visited but the author made Portland, with its relatively low population and eco-friendly ways, and the surrounding areas very inviting. Even with the odd murder.
The story here is a good one, with a decent amount of plausible suspects for the crimes that pile up. Meg’s magazine is sponsoring the local leg of the reality TV show so there is a lot of access to the contestants and crew. Plus a couple of locals, including Meg’s new boss, also come under suspicion. The disparate threads and red herrings are all woven together well so the reader is easily swayed from one suspect to another before the final resolution. As with most cosy mysteries Meg has a circle of friends and family that are enjoyable to get to know. Her beloved grandmother is an entertaining mix of pragmatist and psychic and I can see her being a popular drawcard for future instalments of the series.
The cosy end of the crime fiction market is crowded and one I generally avoid these days due to the preponderance of gimmicks over the basics of story and character development. But SCENE OF THE CLIMB keeps the gimmicks and quirkiness to an acceptable level and it tells a suspenseful story that does not rely too heavily on unrealistic coincidences and the superhuman behaviour of its amateur sleuth. Although the main plot is well-wrapped up there’s a teaser relating to future possibilities for a minor thread that did make me add this book’s sequel to my wishlist for the next time I fancy a visit to the mountains. My only real gripe with the book is that its Australian character (one of the reality TV show’s crew) is not very authentic (for example the word ocker is not Australian for womaniser). I know it’s a small thing but unnecessary errors like this annoy me.
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This is the 16th book I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge in which I’m aiming to read a total of 51 books, one set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.
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Publisher Kensington Books 
Length 299 pages
Book Series #1 in the Meg Reed series
Source of review copy I bought it