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James Scott Bell
A Ty Buchanan Mystery
Center Street 2007
Fortunately, you cannot judge a book by its cover. The cover of Try Dying, the first Ty Buchanan mystery novel by James Scott Bell could either represent the promise of bold, fast-paced excitement; an edgy fasten-your-seatbelts ride, or the choppy page with its synaptic explosion of garish colours, in-your-face image, and expanding lettering. The cover for Try Dying the mystery novel by James Scott Bell scores high on the irritability quotient; you be the judge.
Try Dying by James Scott Bell is an illustration of how a single moment in time can dramatically alter the course of one's life, sometimes by seismographic proportions. Case in point: the stable, ordinary existence of attorney Ty Buchanan suddenly explodes out of control when a freak accident on a freeway claims the life of his beloved fiancée.
Ty is sought out by a dishelved anonymous witness who makes the frightening revelation that Jacqueline has been murdered. When the police refuse to award the man any credibility, haunted by his fiancée's image, Buchanan is forced to launch his own investigation. The meat of the story involves Ty caught in a vortex of confusion and criminal activity and pushed over the brink rationality into the dark and sinister parts of his psyche which not only put his life at risk but make him and his resulting behaviour almost unrecognizable to his friends and to himself.
Immediately grabbing the reader's attention, Try Dying has great potential. Refreshing and most welcome in a mystery novel, it contains real emotions. There are moments of correctness and poignancy, mixed with grief as Ty's shock over his fiancée's death melts into sadness. Then, anger and determination rule as Buchanan is driven to discover the truth and his quest takes on a life of its own.
James Scott Bell does an excellent job detailing the aggressive spiral of a man who has experienced a deep loss. His down to earth conversational style and brief chapters, many scarcely more than a page, make for easy, relatable reading which encourages page turning. Interest spikes at crucial, sometimes explosive moments and little, in terms of plot twists is anticipated.
The ingredients for an exciting mystery novel are definitely present. However, Try Dying is not without its glitches. As the plot thickens it becomes at times a complicated tangle of victims, motives, and who's who. It does come together but connecting the dots can be a challenge. This Ty Buchanan mystery would have been more enriched had characters been developed more fully. Details of Buchanan's life with Jacqueline's and his pre-tragedy personality would not only have provided contrast to his well-documented downward spiral, but would also have made him more likeable.
As it is, beyond his love for Jacqueline and his assumed competence as a lawyer, there is not much either endearing or sympathetic about Ty Buchanan. Thus the series of unfortunate and often dangerous events to which he is subject becomes repetitive and even tedious. However all works out in the long run with mystery solved, and Ty's life getting back on track.
Deserving mention, within the pages of Try Dying is a concurrent legal drama with interesting subject matter and enough secrets, lies, and betrayal to potentially make a strong and compelling novel in and of itself. The transition between the two storylines however, is not easy, so perhaps Bell would have been better off to choose an either/or scenario to showcase his talent.