The Hidden Chamber of Death

One interesting aspects about reviewing books is leaving one’s normal reading milieu. Sometimes a book gives an insight into a different life, and sometimes it is just unexpected.

The Hidden Chamber of Death by Hawk MacKinney managed both of those. And it raised a number of writing points.

First impressions were not good.

A convoluted – albeit short – prologue, too many adjectives, clichés, and too much imagery introduced in Chapter One.

‘It blanketed the yard, beading the screens of his dog-trot sleeping porch with shimmering water droplets.’

‘Some of them were the finest people he’d ever known, but there were always a few rotten apples in any bushel.’

‘The floral centerpiece formed a halo starburst of torn petals and shattered cobalt blue fragments of a wine bottle.’

These are OK in isolation but too much of this sort of writing in the first few pages wearies the reader. Well this one. I want to know what the story’s about without all this distraction.

Then, there is the introduction to some of the monied families involved. At this point I needed one of those nice little charts that showed everyone’s connections, as I was struggling – and failing – to map one out in my head.

But what is it about? Ex-SEAL PI works with a local police officer, natch a former SEAL buddy, on a case that involves the death of a banker, some dubious accounting around a monied estate (of which the PI is the trustee) and a few random murders by a depraved sadistic psychotic killer. A beautiful widow is involved, which I wrongly assumed would be the dead banker’s wife. So, wrong-footed there to start with.

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What was fascinating (to this non-American) was the detail of the culture of old money in the deep south across Georgia and South Carolina. My only knowledge of this area comes from For A Few Dollars More where Col Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) was the finest shot in the Carolinas. Not quite the same I suspect.

On this culture thing, one puzzlement was when the PI was invited to high tea at the mansion of the banker’s widow. The butler served tea (to drink) in the afternoon in china cups. And … that was it.

Now, afternoon tea in England consists of nice little finger sandwiches, frequently cucumber, or cucumber and salmon, or maybe smoked salmon. Followed by a scone perhaps or fairy cakes. It’s a real performance.

High tea, on the other hand, is something like ham and egg and chips, served around 6 pm. It’s a sit-down meal.

I have no idea what afternoon tea or high tea in America is, but if this was old money America I’m surprised no food was forthcoming.

Also, on the cultural issues, there is some local dialect in dialogue. Dialect is a controversial issue in current day writing. People are advised not to write like Mark Twain. It is regarded as slowing down the reading. Personally I don’t mind reading dialects, I think it adds colour but needs to be used in moderation. It’s not just the dialogue, MacKinney used a load of phrases and idioms that were totally alien to me. Another learning curve.

Back to the plot.

What nearly stopped me reading was Chap 3. I loathe gory graphic descriptions of sadistic torture. And the story jumps from laying out all the complex pieces to set the scene for the banking conspiracy, to some totally sick perverted piece of detritus. To be fair, there was a content warning on this book.

I can never understand why people object to consensual sex in books or swearing, but don’t have a problem with reading about people being ripped to bits.

But I persevered because the banking conspiracy aspect was interesting, and MacKinney is skilled at building tension, and alternating pace.

The lead character, Craige Ingram, is good. I expected macho SEAL antics but he was a thinking person. Wrong-footed again. He’s obviously good-looking and rich, but more importantly, he has a GSD. I’m sold immediately! His ex-SEAL buddy doesn’t play a major part in the telling of the story, yet like another former SEAL (a lawyer), he’s there when he needs to be. Networking par excellence.

What I also liked were the strong female characters: Ingram’s grandmother, the banker’s widow, the beautiful widow (the sex/love interest), the lustful secretary, the two bagwomen, the bad rich girl, every one added colour to the story.

And, the plot was interesting, which made me keep reading. Although, the ending felt rushed. Note to Mr MacKinney, spend a bit more time on beginnings and endings. Overall, I think it was worth the read. As this is the first of a series, I’d be interested to see if the characters develop further in the next book/s, or if it’s just more of the same.

I’d recommend a new graphic designer. That font on the front cover is truly horrible, it detracts from the image which is extremely significant, and the back with the blurb is difficult to read. On the plus side, the font inside is excellent. Which isn’t much good if the cover puts off readers …

There were some punctuation typos and a few formatting glitches, otherwise it was cleanish.

At this point I should add MacKinney’s bio.

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He started writing mysteries for school newspapers, and has since written mystery/suspense, historical fiction, sci-fi, and professional articles/texts on foetal and adult anatomy.

Unsurprisingly, he spent more than 20 years in the US Navy. While serving as a naval commander he worked as a faculty member at several state medical units. He has postgrad degrees in languages and history, and has taught postgrad in the US and Israel.

His historical novel, Moccasin Trace, was nominated for the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the Writers Notes Book Award.

Giveaway

Prizes are five ebooks or print copies, and a $25 Amazon gift card, all available internationally.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to iRead Book Tours and to the author for being willing to send print books internationally. It’s always good to curl up with a real book and lose yourself in a different world.

47 comments on “The Hidden Chamber of Death

    • merewoman – The dog isn’t fictional either – one of my favorites. Doesn’t take our dogs long to train us. We Southron folks luv to talk; luv our idioms, AND adore our strong, enticing, lovable utterly adorable steel-cored fascinating graceful charming women who can work side-by-side with us & welcome us across the hearth at day’s end –OR— before the day gets started. These quiet heroines of hearth & home & chirren aren’t fiction, interweaving romance with other misnamed genres of fiction that is seldom fiction. Was fun to know U liked my favorite character.

      Hawk MacKinney
      http://www.hawkmackinney.net

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  1. Timely. Studying genre with my youngest and will use this as an example of a book review, (am fairly certain you won’t mind). As for the book itself, you have a fitter stomach than I for graphic gore! This is possibly to my disadvantage…

    Liked by 1 person

    • mybrightlife – Don’t mind in the least, & by no means is it to your disadvantage. Reading taste(s) vary, as do the writer’s telling the tale. Graphic content is there for a purpose…with the word of the twist of psychotic view reality of can be painted with words. Showing the unbelievable in a view of what is real. The world of the psychotic is lethal, unpredictable, with no warning, lethally dangerous, and makes no sense EXCEPT to that one mind. Most can’t or refuse to visualize such detail. This writer has viewed it personally…more than a few times, & such perspectives still leave me at a loss for comprehension. BUT that beast lies within ALL of us. View the chaos of random kills or the idiocy of terrorism…example…the assassination of the beautiful Empress ‘Sisi’ Elizabeth. Thank U for stopping by & commenting…

      Hawk MacK

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting comments on the use of dialect. It definitely can be burdensome if overdone. Last year I read a couple of books by Julia Peterkin, an early 20th century Southern US writer, whose works included heavy amounts of Gullah dialect. Because the books were about former slaves and their descendants (nearly all Gullah), it made sense, even if it took a little while to grasp the dialect. However, dialect for dialect’s sake often leaves me puzzled or pondering if I should just skip it Mark Twain excepted, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cotton Boll Conspiracy – Gullah is fascinating, more language than dialect, but a touch of both. All languages idioms/dialects are tricky for a writer using them in a language that is NOT native to the reader/speaker. We all use them, & are instantly understood by those we’ve grown up with. Caveat—one must know/have command of the rules of the elegance of one’s native language before using/breaking/rearranging together the dialects/speech marking our character(s). Thank U for stopping by, commenting…

      Hawk MacK
      http://www.hawkmackinney.net

      Liked by 2 people

  3. “a few rotten apples in any bushel.’” ???

    Maybe he wanted to swap the word ‘bushel’ for ‘barrel’ and call it an original phrase(?)

    Question, roughseas. The fairy cakes – would they be similar to fairy bread in Australia (white bread spread with butter and sprinkled with . .well, sprinkles!; toasted)? I had never heard of it. .

    I must admit that I have shaken my head a couple of times trying to follow your conversations with Ark; the dialect and idiom thing. I assume people have the same perplexity trying to follow a convo of two Maritimers. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Glad you hung in to find it an interesting read! A balanced review which gives the writer kudos where deserved and some items to work on for the next book. It also encourages the reader to hang in for a bit. Thank you. So many times, we readers scan the first few pages and either choose the book or put it back.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. roughseasinthemed – Thank you for reading/hosting Hidden Chamber of Death, Book 1 in the Moccasin Hollow Mystery Series. Book 2 galleys of Westobou Gold is currently in cover design. An earlier release, the historical romance Moccasin Trace, establishes the bloodline(s) of Craige Ingram in the Moccasin Hollow Series. Should you be in King George III’s Georgian neck of the woods on this side of the big pond we might enjoy some colonial variation(s) on Southron high tea. Although I must admit the unchallenged good taste of a fresh steaming cup of English black &/or English breakfast tea…two of my favorites. Again…your hosting is much appreciated.

    Hawk MacKinney
    http://www.hawkmackinney.net

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  6. If here’s a strong cultural thread and dialect to decipher…then I’m in!

    As a Scot I ‘m used to people complaining bitterly about our various dialects….but having coped with Poitevin patois, Aragonese Valencian,and Costa Rican country talk I’m convinced that you need to get to grips with the language to understand the thinking.

    High tea intrigued me…when young in Scotland it used to be meat or fish, then drop scones,cakes,etc…served with tea, I remember it being referred to as meat tea by my Australian grandfather.

    Bear with my IT incompetence….it is available to download on Amazon U.K.?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Helen DEVRIES – Yes…it IS a cultural thread…a point many never grasp, even fewer see. Truly enjoyed your “…Poitevin patois, Aragonese Valencian,and Costa Rican country talk…” – language(es) is/are the core of cultural thinking. Have spent time in the Loch Gerry highlands, Isle of Skye near Dunvegan, strolls amid the solitude & beauty that is Scotland high country. With my limited background in linguistics & languages NOT of my mother tongue…complain about Scottish dialects? Never! I luv their links to the lands/peoples/cultures of my bloodlines. High Tea? I’ve never experienced any two served the same. Always had a yen to visit; never seemed to put together the time. Thank U for for your very acute comments…

      Hawk MacK
      http://www.hawkmackinney.net

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I was invited out for ‘tea’ when staying in Yorkshire. It actually meant going to eat a meal. There was no tea at all. Having tea in Australia also means eating. Is there something vulgar about the word ‘eat’? What to say when wanting a real cup-o-tea? Do people perhaps say, ‘I would like to eat?’

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gerard OOSTERMAN – Ah…we colonials of our mother lands of the UK, and more the fortunate for it. High Tea, tea bags, sweepings & fine tea—being a coffee & tea & ex-colonial of His Majesty Geo III, I must admit “…wanting a cup-o-tea…” is exactly that…cup-o-tea. Then there’s a whole ‘nother aroma of eat-a-spoon, bilge water coffee…being a navy/marine man…LUV it! Thank U for stopping by, commenting…

      Hawk MacK
      http://www.hawkmackinney.net

      Like

  8. Apples in bushels or baskets. That’s how it’s said – common usage here. People always caution about regionalisms and idioms confusing readers – but just pretend it’s a different country with quirky language – we do when reading authors’ from other countries and times. Deep south, rural areas, and Texas do love their colorful language that adds to stories quickly. Tea time apparently varies a great deal by countries and regions, too – that one didn’t sound familiar. High Teas here are quite special occasions – but not an everyday thing.
    Great review. Another cover is a good suggestion – this one wouldn’t sell me on picking up the book. I always like a character list/chart somewhere since my reading usually isn’t straight through – more like constantly interrupted and set aside – so I forget and need to review who is connect to whom.
    Sounds like an interesting author, but so much violence around here in everyday existence, I’m just not up to taking in more/extreme with books – maybe I’ll check out his other one. Stuff based on facts and history area always intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As John said … barrel! Love these quaint differences huh? I like the learning.

      I used to like the high tea, but they aint very vegetarian friendly. Must go quickly. Am in bar for wifi and it is smelling toooo good.

      I like lists, maps, family trees and all that. Yeah, less gore and more facts and history suits me. Ever the history graduate! Paw waves (all eight of them …)

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      • Someday I’ll return to Vancouver and dress appropriately for high tea at that historic old Empress Hotel. HAve wanted to do that ever since I saw it as a high school kid (with no money and a bit grubby.) Good to hear from you – thought it might be spring hours which I am considering. If you are posting, WP isn’t letting me know.
        Words and history are the perfect tangle. Got the travel itch right now. But not in the cards for a bit.
        Enjoy it all! Paws and rock!

        Like

  9. I’m surprised you gave such a thorough considering its shortcomings. I don’t like to invest a whole lot of time into a reviews of books I struggle so much with. However this is not too different to the problems of the last review I posted.

    Afternoon tea… high tea? (what the… ) Not the America I know and I was there almost twenty years.

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    • Well, much of it was good. And anyway, I try to be fair. America seems like 50 something countries to me. I’m surprised it is actually a federation/union. Wondering when it will disintegrate like the USSR. Not yet. And def not over high/afternoon tea!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It might as well be 50 countries since each state has its own laws… most of them albeit are subtle differences. However, there is a Federal district and Fed law always trumps State law. They will never disintegrate… despite differences, there is a definite national pride among Americans. Tea or Iced-Tea? Rather, try Moonshine, or Mountain Dew. ;)

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