Hy Conrad is best known as a writer/producer of the quirky television series “Monk,” but according to his bio he’s also developed a number of mystery games and interactive films — directly relevant to his debut novel, Rally ‘Round the Corpse.
The novel centers on Amy Abel, who’s working to get past her fiance’s sudden death by opening a new travel agency, Abel Adventures, that specializes in adventure travel. For her first big expedition she’s paid an expert mystery game developer to create a road rally mystery starting in Monte Carlo. But just as the game is ready to launch, the developer is himself murdered in New York. Amy has to make the game work, though; her entire business depends on a successful tour.
The first half of the book describes the road rally mystery. Several teams are introduced — both the players and the characters in the game. The teams unravel clues and race to places like Elba in search of their next clues. In the end, one of the characters in the murder mystery dies, and the teams are responsible for telling whodunit and why. But it all gets more complicated, not to mention serious, when a real team member, not a character, is murdered at the last night’s banquet, and Marcus, a tour member and Amy’s new love interest, is implicated. The second half of the book returns to New York where several tour members work to solve the real mystery.
Part II was much more effective, in my opinion, than Part I. The game with the various teams and characters was confusing and in the end much of it was extraneous to the real mysteries: who killed the game’s author and the team member? In addition, readers aren’t given all of the clues to the mystery game anyway, so it’s not as if we get to try to figure out the clues anyway. Part I could’ve been boiled down to a third and still effectively introduced the relevant characters and evidence.
Nonetheless, I really liked Amy, who must overcome her own tendency to freeze in difficult situations, and her mom, Fanny Abel, the epitome of the interfering mother. They run the travel agency together and live in a home divided into two apartments (not that Fanny recognizes that as a boundary), and Fanny’s zest for living nicely counters Amy’s fearful and sometimes conventional thinking.
Because of Amy and Fanny, the adventure travel angle, and the light humor throughout the book, I’m now looking forward to Abel Adventures #2, If I Die Before the Wake. Many thanks to author Hy Conrad for sending me a review copy of Rally ‘Round the Corpse.