Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Casey Had to Die by L.C. Hayden: A Review

It's been a long time since I have written for this site.  Blame school.

Ironically enough, in one of my classes, I was required to read a novel a week...or two.  I therefore decided to reprint my reviews from the class here.

I also am very happy to have rediscovered the joy and ease of reading, ease in that if I took a day to do that, I could finish a book rather quickly.

Being a bit lazy, I don't want to rewrite everything, so a little cut and paste will do.  The others won't have this intro, but will start from the beginning.  Later on, I'll rework these to a better manner.  For now, please enjoy these reviews.

I'm so thrilled to be back and hope to come back more often.

Why Casey Had to Die by L.C. Hayden

1.      Bibliographic Information:

Hayden, L. C. (2006).  Why Casey Had to Die.  Five Star, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.

ISBN: 978-1-59414-493-6

2.      Summary:

Harry Bronson is a recently retired Dallas detective, whose retirement was not exactly on friendly terms with his superiors.  As much as he wants to really retire and please his wife Carol with a long road trip, he recently has been receiving messages about Casey Secrist, the murder victim on his very first case.  While Casey’s boyfriend was convicted of the murder, Bronson has never shaken the belief that he was innocent.  However, the boyfriend was killed in a prison riot shortly after his arrival, and while Bronson wanted to keep investigating, he was told not to.  Bronson blames ‘following procedure’ for his failure in this case, and from then on he has no problem bucking the system (though he never breaks the law, only bends it when needed).  The sender of these messages, who goes by “S.”, is able to stay one step ahead of Bronson, and may be luring Bronson into a deadly trap as revenge involving the Secrist case.  Bronson suspects that his selection of consultant to a mystery readers’ convention where a ‘crime’ is committed and the participants are asked to solve is part of this master plan.  As such, he isn’t surprised to find that the hypothetical case mirrors the Secrist case.  As Bronson attempts to unmask who ‘S’ is and why he/she is planning this vengeance, he finds that apart from the regular hotel staff, no one is who he/she claims to be.  Once ‘S’ is discovered, Bronson finds the stakes have been raised: Carol has been kidnapped by ‘S’ and ‘S’’s minion, and Bronson is forced to go geocatching, a bit like a scavenger hunt where clues about locations are left for him, which he has to find and collect objects in a race to stop S from killing Carol.  In the end, a dying S reveals the motive behind this elaborate plan, Carol is safe, and while the real Casey killer is revealed, Bronson knows that he is still just outside his reach.  However, for how long?

3.      Comparison of characteristics.

Why Casey Had to Die is in the hard-boiled line of detective fiction, though it straddles between police procedural and private detective.  The name ‘Harry Bronson’ already evokes two ‘tough guys’: Dirty Harry Callahan and movie star Charles Bronson.  The dialogue reveals Harry to be a generally tough guy, pretty dismissive of ‘procedure’.  Bronson uses police tactics, his past contacts, and even has help from the Sheriff (albeit reluctant on both sides). However, since he’s retired and is acting in an unofficial capacity he can also be considered a P.I. The potential suspects are sketched effectively and when ‘S’ is unmasked we do get a genuine surprise.  Hayden gives Bronson a few soft touches.  He is emotional when Carol is abducted, and his great weakness is coffee (many times the omniscient narrator mentions how much he not only loves coffee, but tries to get three teaspoons of sugar when Carol isn’t watching, since she wants him to put two at the most).  The mystery is not about the murder of Casey itself, but about who and why Bronson is being targeted for revenge.  The case involves Casey’s murder, but while that mystery is solved (though the actual murderer was not brought to justice in the novel, suggesting there will be a continuation), the actual crime involves Bronson’s harassment, which does involve another character being murdered.    

4.      Personal Reaction

I enjoyed Why Casey Had to Die more than I thought I would.  When ‘S’ is unmasked, I did have to go back to Bronson’s first meeting with the person who turned out to be ‘S’ and see that Hayden had set up a very subtle suspect that flew under the radar.  Once we do discover who ‘S’ is, it becomes slightly less interesting.  While the story has good pacing when Carol’s life is in danger, something about that scenario strikes me as a little clich√© (almost like a damsel in distress).  I don’t respond too well when secondary characters are placed in peril, or when once the actual mystery (in this case, who is the person pursuing Bronson) is solved, we shift from actual mystery to ‘desperate race against time’.  That isn’t to say I thought that ruined the book.  It worked well in the story.  It just felt a little off.  One thing I wasn’t fond of was that a major piece of information that would have led us to look at the actual “S” was not revealed until basically by accident, and for me, not being given this particular clue is a bit unfair.  Granted, Hayden did give us subtle clues about who ‘S’ is, but what I think is ‘the big clue, the definitive clue’ didn’t come my way.  I did think well of all the characters, which were given distinct personalities: Carol’s loving but frustrated wife was a great counterbalance to Bronson’s tough persona being the highlight.  Their scenes read like a real husband-and-wife who love each other and have learned to tolerate their foibles.  All the suspects similarly read as real people: suspicious and innocent when needed.  The physical descriptions were sometimes even amusing. I would recommend Why Casey Had to Die for those who can tolerate some violence and/or danger to characters.  It is not graphic but it is a bit beyond the ‘cozy’ mystery particularly in the threat to Carol.  If a patron can accept the potential killing or maiming of an innocent, he/she will I think enjoy Why Casey Had to Die.  This book is also good if one enjoys a series with the same characters, and one doesn’t have to have read any previous Harry Bronson novels to enjoy/follow this story.

5.      Other Genres

The only other genre that Why Casey Had to Die would fit into would be the thriller.  The story has a stalker and a ‘race against time’ scenario where the reader doesn’t know if Bronson will indeed ‘make it on time’ (technically, he doesn’t). With its Southwest setting and mostly stoic main character, it might possibly enter the Western genre, but that is a major stretch.  While the murder mystery of Casey Secrist is both investigated and a prime motive to the story, it is both the fact that the main character is facing danger and he has to rescue someone he loves ‘before it’s too late’ that could qualify Why Casey Had to Die as a thriller. 

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