Stream It or Read It? Past Malice: An Emma Fielding Mystery

I must confess, I’m a sucker for those Hallmark mystery movies! Guilty as charged, officer! I especially enjoy the Emma Fielding mysteries starring Courtney Thorne Smith and the hunky James Tupper—my God, what a good-looking man! The plots are rather thin, and the acting leaves much to be desired, yet it all makes for fine Friday night brainless entertainment! I especially love the concept of an archeologist-turned amateur sleuth solving mysteries in a cozy coastal village, such fun! Usually, the books are far better than their cinematic adaptations, but this, I’m sorry to say, is an exception. Let me break it down for you like this:

The actual story: In the movie, Emma is called to a historic castle at the bequest of her gal pal, Adelle, who fears a thief is at large and—gasp—the family curse is wreaking havoc on the inhabitants. She needs Emma to do some sleuthing and digging to find the culprit! Oh, how I love a cursed castle mystery!! Sign. Me. Up! The book’s storyline, however, proved to be less than stimulating. Emma’s just doing some digging at a large estate (not a spooky caste) along with her team of grad students to find old pots and pans and whatnot…blah. She stumbles across a couple dead bodies and, in between squabbling with her husband and her sister, she starts searching for clues. I think the Hallmark movie makers realized that the book was a total snooze-fest, so they dramatically altered the plot and the characters to keep viewers intrigued. Honestly, I’m OK with this.

Fun fact: The Chandler Castle may look familiar to my fellow horror movie fans because it is the same spooky castle from “The Changeling,” located in in British Columbia, Canada!

Thoughts on the main character:  Although Courtney Thorne Smith seems to be dialing it in, she’s still likable and even has a little spunk. The literary Emma Fielding, on the other hand, has the personality of a sea slug. She reminds me of my elderly neighbor who is tired of people’s bullshit and is unabashedly cranky. I commend her for her authenticity, but that doesn’t mean I want to be around her much. Emma Fielding seems to have a similar vibe. The author paints her as a young, pretty red-headed schoarly woman, but I just picture a cantankerous middle-aged woman whenever she speaks. When I read this genre, I’m accustomed to fun, plucky women with quirky sidekicks and maybe even some kitty cats. This book has none of that. In fact, I don’t even think Emma Fielding is a friend to animals, which was evident in the beginning when she remarked on her impulse to throw some stones at a seagull but restrained herself because people tend to frown on those actions. What? I seriously should’ve DNFed right there.

The romance: Keeping true to the cozy mystery formula, the movies intertwine a little push-and-pull romance between Emma and her detective sidekick Special Agent Jim Connor. Sidenote: I would like to thank the casting director for selecting this man for the job because HE DOES IT FOR ME! As for the books, the romance is just not happening. Emma’s a tired married woman who is constantly getting lectured for putting herself in danger. It’s sweet that the husbands in these books are so protective, but it’s also extremely annoying. If they’re so worried, they need to get off their lazy butts and help their women solve the dang mystery!

The suspects: In the movie, I really love how the suspects in the movie played out like a game of Clue. We’ve got a bitter butler, an entitled playboy/heir to the Chandler Castle, an obsessively superstitious personal assistant, and many other quirky suspects. In the book, the manor’s inhabitants were a lot less colorful and rather forgettable. To be perfectly honest, I’m having a hard time recalling anything specific about the slew of suspects other than the fact that they were all unpleasant and distrustful of outsiders.

More Gripes: Toward the climax of the book, I was just astounded by the utter stupidity of this woman who is supposed to be a brilliant tenured archeology professor. Despite her husband’s incessant admonitions, she does something incredibly stupid—to the point where I’m convinced she just wants to get killed.  Obviously a killer is after her, but she elects to climb a latter to the rooftop of the manor—at night by herself—to get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding village. Why? So she can imagine what it must’ve looked like 200 years ago? I simply don’t understand this logic whatsoever! At this point, I was just rooting for the killer to take her out.

Overall assessment: Steam it! This book is too long, too dry and just too full of unsavory characters with piss-poor decision-making skills.

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