Book Title: Murder in Montague Falls
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned story about murder? As long as it remains in the fictional realm, that is. This anthology consists of three novellas about murder in the small town of Montague Falls and each one takes place in a different time period. They are stories are inspired by the noir style, so they feature dark subjects that are not just about murder, bleak situations and a lack of morals.
But it also features teen protagonists with troubled pasts grappling with the rites of passage that come with edging toward adulthood. From earning money doing a paper route to finding a way to fit in with others to discover how far you would go for love; anyone can relate to these teens and their situations.
Journey to Montague Falls to find out who gets murdered and why, starting with:
Russ Colchamiro’s “Red Ink” – Its fall in 1984 and fourteen-year-old Isaac is a paperboy delivering in his assigned neighborhood. But when one of his regulars, Ms. Gagne, doesn’t pay him on time like she always does, he gets suspicious. Deciding to check on her, he looks in her window and thinks he sees her dead body! When the body disappears the next day and Ms. Gagne’s brother says she went on a trip suddenly, Isaac begins to investigate.
The police don’t seem interested in this case either so it’s all up to him. But what will he discover when he looks into it and will he survive to share what he learned? It all results in a spine-tingling finale where lives are on the line, blood is pooling on the floor and time is running out!
The finale is filled with many different twists which astounded me with their surprises. And the revelations each character learns about the other are filled with excellent character details and the culmination of meticulous plot-building. The motivation for murder fits perfectly into its time period and we completely understand what happened by the end of the story. Even if not everyone survives to see it.
As a teenager, Isaac has a love of spy movies and pop culture. Given his depressing home life with a father who is unemployed and a traumatic loss when he was younger, it’s good he has a sweet friendship with a girl, Dani, his closest confidant. I also appreciated the deep level of psychological insight into his character and how it impacted all of his decisions, consciously or not.
The 1984 time period also immersed me into the story with its pop culture references as well as the fear of the spread of Communism. It brought up those paranoid feelings about the “Red Scare” in the Ronald Reagan era and how people were concerned about Russian agents infiltrating America. That level of atmosphere was something I welcomed, as it’s clear that a lot of forethought went into not only creating the plot and its clues, but also the creation of Isaac and his history. It’s a terrific novella that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Sawney Hatton’s “The Devil’s Delinquents” – Cal and Derry are teenagers who like to listen to heavy metal, smoke dope, disregard authority, like demons and generally get into trouble. But they meet someone in detention, Natalie, who knows more about Satan than they do. An outcast like them, Nat has grand plans to get Satan to favor her and it involves the two of them. Once the plan is set in motion, a sacrifice has been chosen, there are secret rituals, death, bloodshed and horror as all previously hidden motivations are revealed.
Worshiping Satan and performing rituals to gain his attention is an interesting one, as it involves a lot of faith in evil and powerful forces. As Derry and Cal become more enmeshed into Natalie’s plan, their objections to these demonic processes slowly decrease over time. Also, their selfish desires for success slowly begin to overcome whatever morals they had. It’s a case study of slowly going down a slippery slope and providing justification to yourself that what they’re doing is righteous and necessary.
Cal, Derry, and Natalie are all well-drawn characters who are quite different from one another. But they all have something in common, as they are bullied mercilessly by the jocks and the cheerleaders for being different. Their home lives are also really messed up and how they desire a better life is what motivates them to try something heinous and horrific.
The plot wanders a little bit when they all attend a party together but makes up for it with its character building and especially the story’s visceral ending. It held me rapturously with its raw power, the queasiness it induced at what happened and its unexpected twists and turns. I was quite disgusted and horrified at the sacrifice but also astonished at the hidden reasons why this ritual was being done to begin with. The delicious ending will leave you wondering whether all their efforts were successful or not.
Patrick Thomas’s “A Many Splendid Thing” – It’s 1955 and Jethro is an eighteen-year-old who is attracted to his young and beautiful science teacher, Mrs. Carmine. However, he somehow stumbles into a situation where he finds his attraction is reciprocated (!). After their scandalous and brief sexual tryst, they find their feelings for one another grow into something more. There’s just that pesky, abusive husband of hers who needs to be dealt with – permanently. As Jethro is drawn ever deeper into Mrs. Carmine’s conspiracy to murder her husband, things get even more complicated with each passing day. Will Jethro be able to succeed or extricate himself from this situation before it’s too late?
The level of cunning both Jethro and Mrs. Carmine display as they move forward through these complicated machinations is very engrossing. There are schemes with schemes here and just when you thought you figured it all out, there’s another obstacle or obfuscation that sends your conspiracy theories out the window. For a while, I was constantly wondering whether this was really about forbidden love between a teacher and a student or something more sinister and manipulative. By the end of this tale, I had my answer and it was a stunning one.
With each turn of the screw, one little justification after another, one sexual encounter after another, Jethro is soon in over his head in love. His willingness to do anything she asks of him, even murder, slowly erodes whatever sense of morality he has. When you see someone so kind with a loving father begin to do unspeakable things for the sake of what they think is love and lust, it’s both thrilling from a story point of view as well as disheartening. Even as Jethro questions why he’s doing these things, it’s a fascinating read to see how he makes the decisions he does.
And just when you think one of them is going to get caught committing a crime, I wondered how they might be able to get away with it. Just when I thought their dilemma couldn’t get more complex, it did. The level of sophistication with these schemes impressed me and held me in suspense as I marveled at the nefarious turns this tale took. This forbidden love continuously pushed the two of them into doing the unthinkable. By the finale, I was breathless in anticipation as all the planning was brought to fruition and I pondered whether they might succeed. You will too once you read this story.
Each novella features a murder mystery. Sometimes you know who the victim is but you don’t know why. Sometimes, you don’t know who the victim is but you find out how they died over the course of the story. And sometimes, you don’t know who is going to die until you reach the finale of the tale. But each time, I was enthralled with the story and the startling turns each one took. At times, I was even horrified at some of the acts these teens committed.
Other times, I was screaming at the protagonists to not get caught up in the dilemmas they faced because they were good people being lured into doing bad things or dangerous situations. But overall, each one was a pulse-pounding tale that thrilled me with its mystery and enveloping storytelling. Each one was also vastly different from one another, providing a variety of tales and different motivations for each murder committed.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Russ Colchamiro include “Crossline“.