J. M. Burns debut mystery featuring David Endicott, Deadline: Stiff, begins as a locked room puzzle and ends as a first-rate thriller. Hired to find out the identity of the dead man he “rescued” from a guesthouse fire on the estate of Baulden Grey, David Endicott is presented with a number of problems. The only unsecured access to the building was a small window on the third floor, yet no evidence was found to indicate the man entered through it. His death was apparently due to his falling from a great height, yet bruises on the body are inconsistent with this supposition. And why was he in the guesthouse in the first place?
The first half of Deadline: Stiff moves along briskly, as the seven-day time-limit imposed on David by Grey subtly serves to quicken the pace of the story. The second half races to a conclusion at breakneck speed, with the storylines seeming to trip over each other. It’s not quite clear at any time who is aligned with whom, and with the large cast of characters, it’s easy to get confused. The reasoning behind some of the alliances seems weak, and though it would probably have been something of a cliché, a recap between David and his uncle at the end would have been helpful in explaining why various factions were working together.
In many mystery series, there’s often someone who acts as the source of arcane information, all of which is important, if not always initially obvious, to the case at hand. In Deadline: Stiff, it’s Gus, and he’s a wonderfully complex character. Whether he’s quoting scholars from the 17th century or brewing pruno, he’ll be an asset to David in the future.
Burns has created some memorable characters in Deadline: Stiff, and has a real talent for dialog and setting. It’s a terrific start to a promising new mystery series