By Christopher Bowden
Langton & Wood, 2022
Via: Book Blog Tour
Note: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
“It was almost as if she (Aunt Flora) had laid a trail of apparently random clues to draw him in and maintain their relationship beyond the grave. When would she let him go?”
Torn-up photos of headless men. A hidden book with a cryptic inscription. A painting of an east coast town. References to a “Mr. Magenta.” All factor into this cozy blend of mystery, history, theatre, and family, with a touch of romance.
Stephen has just quit his job, dumped his girlfriend Nancy, and lost his aunt. He leaves New York and returns to his Aunt Flora’s home in Paxton Square in south London. (The setting has a “Number Seventeen, Cherry Tree Lane” flavor to it.)
“An only child with few firm friendships, parents there but not there,” the protagonist, Stephen Marling, is a single man in his mid-thirties. His main companions are books.
So back at his late aunt’s house, Stephen spends a lot of time sorting through Flora’s prodigious collection of books. He’s looking for “something to get his teeth into, to provide the structure and focus he lacked.” So, “Wedged in the narrow gap between Wordsworth and the wall” he finds a book with a cryptic inscription. Was there more going on in Aunt Flora’s life than meets the eye?
Stephen also finds a small piece of paper tucked inside an old chest of drawers. Written in his widowed aunt’s hand, it reads “Ring Mr. Magenta. Tell him I don’t mind.” There’s more.
Who or what is the elusive “Mr. Magenta”? A color? A place? A pseudonym? An anagram? What is his relationship to Aunt Flora? Is there an untold story here? What?
These questions and more swirl throughout this cozy mystery. It unfolds gently and deliberately, taking time to establish characters, back stories, connections, and a “bread crumb trail” of clues. Interwoven throughout the mists of mystery and history are colorful characters and vibrant settings, all expertly crafted. Also, while unraveling Mr. Magenta’s identity, Stephen is forced to re-evaluate his own life and decide what he really wants.
Describing this book as a “thriller/suspense” is a bit of a stretch. Yes, there’s mystery. But it’s not the heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping, gotta-lay-down-and-take-a nap-afterwards or grab-some-Dramamine type of story. If you’re looking for Ludlum, Patterson, or C.J. Box, this isn’t it.
Mr. Magenta is eminently engaging, but mellow. Capiche?
This is a worthwhile, entertaining read. The author’s command of the language is impressive. Characters are artfully drawn, as are back stories and story arcs. With many literary allusions, Mr. Magenta is also a delight for bibliophiles who will recognize many of the authors mentioned.
This book is both surprising and buoyant, like meeting old friends in an out-of-the-way place. Fresh and unexpected, Mr. Magenta is as bright as a purplish-red that colors outside the lines.
Our Rating: 3.0