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Every Time I Go On Vacation, Someone Dies

This week, Don reviews "Every Time I Go On Vacation, Someone Dies" by Catherine Mack.

In spite of the cascade of blurbs that declared this novel by Catherine Mack—a pseudonym for Canadian writer Catherine McKenzie—“hilarious, fabulous, madcap, fast paced, captivating,” etc. etc., by sister mystery writers, I really liked it anyway.

The story is told in the first person, in a whimsical, comical, self-effacing voice, by Eleanor Dash, a best-selling writer of murder mysteries. Ms. Dash is in a spot. Several years earlier, while on vacation in Rome, she had an affair with a handsome, irresistible scoundrel named Connor Smith, who purported to be a private detective. Connor, with a little help from Eleanor, was instrumental in solving a series of Mafia-related bank robberies, “Italian jobs,” in which the criminals rented a building near a bank and then tunneled in to empty the vault.

Eleanor, returning home, wrote up their adventure as a crime novel, “When in Rome,” in which she changed the names and so on, all except for Connor’s name. He won’t mind; after all, they are lovers. Well, no. The rat breaks her heart and demands 10% of her earnings or he will sue. Eleanor’ s publisher insists on sequels, so there are several more crime novels, “Murder in Nice,” “Drowned in Porto,” and so on. Connor raises his percentage to 15 and then 20.

When this novel opens—with its very long title, eight words; Hemingway’s “Across the River and Into the Trees” was only seven—Eleanor is back in Rome plotting a novel, tentatively titled “Amalfi Made Me Do It,” in which she will kill off the CHARACTER Connor Smith, to be rid of him once and for all. But the living Connor, also now a crime novelist, shows up in Rome claiming he is the target of a real murder plot, and it appears, shortly, that perhaps Eleanor is also.

They are both on a tour of crime novel sites with several other novelists and Eleanor’s fan club, the BookFace ladies, middle-aged groupies who squeal when a novelist appears. The other mystery writers include a plagiarizing novelist, and, surprisingly, Connor’s ex-wife and Eleanor’s ex-boyfriend. The action moves to Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii. Varieties of violence ensue in these gorgeous places. We learn odd bits. It seems the Mafia has taken over the Blue Grotto on Capri, so if you visit there they get part of the admission fee. True? I don’t know.

And Eleanor, in her first-person narrative, slowly reveals that she does not always tell the whole truth, especially about her past adventures with Connor. Besides the direct address to the reader—no fourth wall, ever—Eleanor also includes footnotes, as if they were Shakespearean asides. These are clarifications, revisions, reminders and clues, quotes from lyrics by someone called Tay Tay and references to Bridgerton, whatever that is.

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.