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Designed to Kill

Author: Chester D. Campbell
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

542This sophomore mystery novel has a good many things to recommend it, not the least of which is the main character. Greg McKenzie is refreshing in an era when the standard for mysteries seems to be to burden the main characters with as many neuroses and life crises as possible. McKenzie’s deepest angst is his effort to quit smoking.

Mr. Campbell’s McKenzie is a retired Air Force investigator who is finding retirement just a bit of a bore. Well, except for that little incident in Israel that left his wife with a bad shoulder, but that was a tale for another time.

In this installment, McKenzie is asked by a close friend to look into the apparent suicide of the friend’s son, an up-and-coming young engineer-architect who seemed to be on the way to fame and fortune. Until a balcony on a building he designed collapsed, killing several people. It was despondency over that, according to the local constabulary on Perdido Key, that led him to shoot himself.

But neither Greg McKenzie nor the young man’s family can believe he would have reacted that way. It wasn’t his style. So McKenzie and his wife Jill travel to their own condo on the key, where the deceased had been living, to see what can be learned. The more they learn, the more dangerous life becomes.

This book seems more a logic puzzle than a mystery as one reads—until the end. That’s just one of the things that makes it a sure-fire delight for anyone who likes lots of suspense and characters who are a lot like the people next door. There’s a wonderful solidity in both Greg and Jill, a constant sense that you’ve actually met them somewhere and just can’t recall where it was. Unlike many cozies, which this technically is, the reader has no difficulty envisioning Greg confronting criminals and recalcitrant witnesses. These are honest, down-to-earth, church-going folks who just happen to end up in messes most people don’t—and who handle it as one suspects they handle any other mess, with steady confidence and practical wisdom.

Boomers in particular are going to enjoy this book, simply because Greg and Jill are fellow travelers whose life experiences we can share because we were there. That, however, needn’t preclude younger readers from enjoying the book, which is filled with vivid and creative imagery as well as demonstrating superb writing skills. Meet the McKenzies—you’ll be better for the experience.

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May 28, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink

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