Friday, February 19, 2010

Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs

book cover

Shoofly Pie
by Tim Downs

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Howard Books
First Released: 2003

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
Within minutes of a murder, the first fly arrives at the scene. Soon there are hundreds, then thousands, and each one knows the victim's story...

Thirty-year-old Kathryn Guilford turns to Dr. Nick Polchak, the Bug Man, to help her learn the truth about the apparent suicide of her longtime friend and onetime suitor. Polchak introduces her to a mysterious world of blood-seeking flies and flesh-eating beetles. But there's a problem...

Kathryn Guilford has a pathological fear of insects.

Now she must confront her darkest fears to unearth a decade-long conspiracy that threatens to turn her entire world upside down.

Shoofly Pie was an enjoyable contemporary suspense/mystery novel. The mystery was fairly easy to figure out (this was a group read, and we all agreed on the who-done-it and why long before the end), but the detective also figured out the who-done-it at about the same time. Their problem was finding the proof that would stand up in court while surviving the ever-increasing body-count. So the suspense was sustained throughout the novel.

The characters were fairly complex. Nick was enjoyably quirky (though he started out as a jerk), and there was an underlying humor to the story. Nick's parts were very funny, and all of the characters--even the minor ones--were engaging.

My main complaint was the excessive level of detail given in two dramatic scenes that were supposed to be happening breath-takingly quickly. For example, in the prologue, the author gave extreme detail about the cars, how they were placed in relation to each other, personal details about a very minor character and his dogs, what the beehives looked like, and so on. I couldn't tell what details I should try to remember out of the onslaught, and the detail level slowed the pacing so much that the suspense was lost. Most of the novel hit the right level of detail, but these two "supposed to be going fast" scenes didn't work for me.

I was also disappointed in the climax. In order to have a huge, dramatic ending, both Nick and Kathryn did unexplained and very stupid actions that weren't in-character (since they were previously smart and quick-thinking in similar circumstances). The climax turned into a Hollywood suspense movie cliche--though with some funny, unique details--and was very predictable.

The examining-the-body scenes were graphic and gross, but Nick added such humor to the scenes that the gross details didn't bother even our normally easy-to-gross-out listener. I don't recall any bad language, and there was no sex. I'm looking forward to reading the next novel in the series. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as humorous, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Cary, North Carolina, April 21, 1999

Nick Polchak rapped his knuckles on the frame of the open doorway. He glanced back at the Wake County Sheriff's Department police cruiser blocking the driveway, orange and blue lights silently rotating.

"Yo!" Nick called into the house. "Coming in!"

A fresh-faced sheriff's deputy in khaki short sleeves poked his head around the corner and beckoned him in. Nick wondered where they got these kids. He looked younger than some of his students.

Nick stepped into the entryway. Dining room room on the right, living room on the left. It was a typical suburban Raleigh home, a colonial five-four-and-a-door with white siding and black shutters. A mahogany bureau stood just inside the door. At its base lay three pair of shoes, one a pair of black patent leathers. Nick shook his head.

He knew the layout by heart: stairway on the left, powder room on the right, down a short hallway was the kitchen, and the family room beyond that.

Nick paused in the second doorway and took a moment to study the young officer. He stood nervously, awkwardly, constantly checking his watch. His right hand held a handkerchief cupped over his nose and mouth, and he winced as he sucked in each short gulp of air. Nick followed the officer's frozen gaze to the right; the decomposing body of a middle-aged woman lay sprawled across the white Formica island in the center of the kitchen.

Nick knocked again.

"Officer...Donnelly, is it? I'm Dr. Nick Polchak. Are you the first one here?"

Read the rest of chapter one.

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