Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mary Jane Maffini's "The Cluttered Corpse"

Mary Jane Maffini is the author of three mystery series and nearly two dozen short stories. Her latest series, the Charlotte Adams mysteries, launched in May 2007 with Organize Your Corpses, the first of three books featuring this professional organizer from New York State.

Maffini applied the “Page 99 Test” to the second book in the series, The Cluttered Corpse, and reported the following:
The quality of the whole will be revealed to you on page 99? Oh boy. The pressure. I glanced at my latest output, The Cluttered Corpse, and stroked its glossy pink and blue cover, admiring the image of the still, outflung arm lying in the shadows of all those sinister stuffed animals. I wondered, will you measure up, little book? Will you entertain, yet be mysterious? Reveal character and still leave room for change? Hint at relationships and unseen villains muddying the waters? Will you assure the reader that this is a protagonist who can be counted on in the darkest hour, despite her nifty shoes? You are an amateur sleuth mystery novel. Can you deliver? This whole page 99 business, there seemed to be so much riding on it.

Hang on, I said. I have eight other books. Why not get in shape for the page 99 test by checking them out? You may call that cheating. I maintained I was testing the test. To my surprise, each of the page 99's offered a glimpse at the heart of the story. Key stuff, not idling subplots or flirtations with walk-on characters. Hmm. There might be something to this.

At last, I cracked open The Cluttered Corpse. Sure enough, page 99 reminds the reader that Charlotte Adams is a professional organizer living in Woodbridge. It seems someone called Tony has been found dead on a pile of plush toys in the home of the Rheinbecks, Charlotte's latest clients. Charlotte might have been there herself had an anonymous prank phone call not lured her away. As creepy as this is, Charlotte is more worried that Emmy Lou has confessed to killing Tony. She mentally reconstructs the scene of the death (handy for us) and tries to figure out why Tony was in the wrong place at a worse time. Meanwhile, several suspects flit on to the page obligingly. By the last line, I would have put money on Charlotte to keep digging until she finds the killer. What a relief. On the down side, there's not a single mention of Charlotte's footwear, although pink fluffy slippers do tiptoe by on page 98.
Learn more about the author and her work at Mary Jane Maffini's website.

Death Loves a Messy Desk, the third novel in the Charlotte Adams series, is due out this spring.

--Marshal Zeringue