The 5 False Suicides (2021) by James Scott Byrnside

Gretta Grahame receives a disturbing phone call from her Uncle Scotty who informs her of his sister’s recent death from taking an overdose. This brings back uncomfortable memories for Gretta as that is how her mother also died. Scotty goes on to explain that his father put a curse on his own family and that thirteen members have died at their own hand leaving only the two of them alive. They arrange to meet but when Gretta goes to his hotel a few days later she finds that he is already dead, apparently having taken an overdose. 

In his final letter he tells Gretta to seek out Boroqe Risezak, the witch who helped grandfather Andrew, but who has now renounced his evil ways and will help her break the curse.

Gretta goes to visit Boroqe and he tells her that the curse can only be broken by visiting Heaven’s Gate, an island off the coast of Maine. So her murder-mystery book group accompany her for a weekend trip from which some of them will never return.

The opening chapter where we meet the MASONS (Murder-mystery Appreciation Society of New Sweden) is a delight as they discuss possible choices for their next read (Ngaio Marsh does not come out of this well although I agree with Gretta’s more positive view of “The Nursing Home Murders”) and then impossible crimes in general. Alice’s opinions on violence and gore are amusing given the author’s previous works are not short on horrific events, although they aren’t dwelt on, and this book is also no exception.

Not content with giving us a series of suicides that may be murders (or vice versa) JSB throws in a serial killer and the threat of wildfires. By about page 50 I knew I wasn’t going to bed until I’d finished so make sure you set aside a suitable time to read this in one sitting as once you’ve started you won’t want to stop.

The title is a clear nod to John Dickson Carr, which shows a great deal of confidence, but the final section of the book shows that it is well-placed. This is a brilliant homage to the Golden Age of Detection but done in JSB’s own distinctive style. 

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