With a sassy, case-cracking heroine in the form of Arianna Archer, A Killing Too Close to Home is an amusing and suspenseful mystery. Bored from a long break between cases, Arianna is a new consultant for the Meadowville Police Department and eager to sink her teeth into a new case, but what she doesn’t expect is for one of her closest friends to be the next murder victim. This emotional case is fast-paced, like the majority of the prose, and it is important to pay attention to the details, because Berg-Raftakis includes plenty of red herrings and classic tricks of the mystery genre.
The author is very skilled at painting a scene and capturing a moment in time, so the setting is believable and enjoyable to explore as a reader. The characters, however, aren’t developed as thoroughly, and occasionally rely on stereotypes and hackneyed personality tropes. Arianna and Mike, her long-time boyfriend, are compelling characters because they were both so intimately involved in the crime – as a friend and as a police officer, respectively. However, the peripheral characters weren’t fleshed out enough to be truly memorable, and the various suspects were flimsy.
The dialogue didn’t always come across as natural, but was instead used as a tool to progress the plot or provide readers with information that they needed. While leading readers along is the author’s job, the self-aware, open-ended dialogue often seemed forced. That being said, the complexity of the plot is impressive, and it is enjoyable to work ahead of the investigators, as a reader, and try to figure out whodunit first.
The writing is also a bit on the nose in many moments throughout the book, as though the author was dropping heavy breadcrumbs, unsure of whether the readers would “get it.” Trusting mystery readers to make connections and draw their own conclusions is essential for a good suspense author, and Berg-Raftakis should give the audience a bit more credit. Some of the narration is also overly declarative and obvious; readers don’t need to know every moment of a protagonist’s inner monologue:
She didn’t know what to do. On one hand, she loved solving mysteries and she knew she was good at it. She also wanted to bring Sallie’s killer to justice. On the other hand, she was still feeling remnants of guilt for wanting a mystery to solve in the first place.
While some of the writing is a bit clunky, Berg-Raftakis does manage to expand the dynamic and charming relationship between Arianna and Mike from the earlier books, and builds a confusing enough plot around the murder of Sallie to keep readers guessing until the very end. Technically speaking, the prose is good, and A Killing Too Close to Home does make for a quick, enjoyable read for a classic mystery lover. The author’s adoration for Agatha Christie is clear in the style and slowly unfolding story, and with a bit more polish, Karen Berg-Raftakis could become a notable player in the genre.