Book Review: The Busy Body by Kemper Donovan

A thoroughly modern murder mystery.

With The Busy Body, US author and host of the Agatha Christie podcast, All About Agatha, Kemper Donovan presents us with a delectably puzzling murder mystery featuring an unlikely duo of amateur sleuths, an unexplained death in a luxury Maine retreat, and an eclectic cast of suspects. Written with a lively wit that carries the story along briskly, the central criminal act in The Busy Body is balanced with plenty of humour as the mystery deepens.

Our narrator is an unnamed ghostwriter, who is a wry and curmudgeonly bibliophile in her mid-30s with an obscure past. Her partner in crime detection is the formidable and garrulous Dorothy Gibson, a failed presidential candidate whoowes a lot of her character to Hillary Clinton, but draws on, and celebrates, many swashbuckling female politicians. (The book declares no political allegiances, Dorothy is an independent.)

Read the full exclusive interview with Kemper Donovan here.

The two meet when the ghostwriter is approached to pen Dorothy’s tell-all memoir (her dream job) and lands in Maine to interview for the job. The pair hit it off immediately, and all seems to be going well until a local woman dies under suspicious circumstances. The victim had met Dorothy the day before and posted a selfie with the one-time Presidential hopeful, Dorothy feels compelled to investigate and so the two set off to make order from the chaos the murder has unleashed.  

Set against an abundance of Maine foliage, a crystal river, large estates, roaring fires, richly decorated homes, and lots of cosy meals with red wine, time spent in the world of The Busy Body is pleasurable indeed.    

Donovan presents us with a tantalising array of people who had the opportunity to kill. Our victim’s body was found in the luxurious Crystal Palace where she was staying with her medical researcher husband, his young and beautiful secretary, a friend who is also their chef, her theatrical sister, with whom the victim had a strained relationship, and a family of dubious investors. Throw in an open marriage, a professional rivalry and a bitter ex-wife and you have motives galore. The property is made entirely of glass, meaning the murder must have been committed by someone staying in the palace. It’s a classic locked door conundrum.

As Dorothy and the ghostwriter ramble around collecting clues and uncovering secrets, they make a delightfully entertaining pair. One of the joys of the novel is the array of female characters. Donovan is skilled at creating engaging, believable people and they all have a role to play in The Busy Body. As the sleuths close in on whodunnit, the mystery remains well concealed from the reader, making the final denouement all the more satisfying.   

Donovan pays tribute to the classic Christie mysteries in many ways. The Busy Body hits all the requisite detective novel beats while still delivering plenty of twists and surprises. The observational humour and cultural references keep it fresh and modern. It’s a highly enjoyable page-turner.  

The Busy Body is on sale now. Read our interview with author Kemper Donovan here and enjoy an exclusive extract from the book in the March issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

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