Book Review — A Midsummer Night’s Scream by Jill Churchill

A Midsummer Night’s Scream is book 15 in what is now, and hope­ful­ly remains, a 16-book series fea­tur­ing Jane Jeffry, a crime-solv­ing stay-at-home moth­er. The title of each book in the series is a play on a famous book title, clev­er­ly tying the mys­ter­ies to Jane’s love of read­ing and what is prob­a­bly the author’s love of books.

As this title implies, Jane and her best friend and neigh­bor, Shelley, are loose­ly involved with a local col­lege-run the­ater. I say loose­ly because Jane and Shelley’s only involve­ment is cater­ing snacks dur­ing the play’s rehearsals so that Shelley can test new cater­ing com­pa­nies for her hus­band. During this time, two peo­ple asso­ci­at­ed with the the­ater, one of the actors and a jan­i­tor, are mur­dered. Jane’s long-time boyfriend, Detective Mel VanDyne, is assigned the two cas­es.

Despite the series name, A Jane Jeffry Mystery, Jane had almost noth­ing to do with solv­ing these mur­ders. Most of this book revolved around tast­ing test­ing cater­ers and attend­ing a needle­point class.

Previous mys­ter­ies make use of Jane’s inti­mate knowl­edge of all things domes­tic. In fact, it was her thor­ough ground­ing in her domes­tic life and chil­dren that was usu­al­ly the key to solv­ing the mys­tery.

Testing the cater­ers dur­ing the the­ater rehearsals was a fee­ble way to involve Jane and Shelley in the the­ater. Having them attend a needle­point class as a way of befriend­ing two of the char­ac­ters in the sto­ry was equal­ly fee­ble. Although the cater­ing com­pa­nies and needle­point class would fit the descrip­tion of “domes­tic,” they were poor­ly used devices. Neither the cater­ers nor the needle­point class had any­thing to do with the mur­ders, except as a dis­trac­tion, and served no pur­pose in advanc­ing the sto­ry or the mys­tery. I was wait­ing for the tie-in and was baf­fled when noth­ing hap­pened.

There was also a slip in char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, with Shelley feel­ing “hurt” that she and Jane weren’t work­ing on their needle­point togeth­er. Shelley wouldn’t feel hurt by some­thing so sil­ly, how­ev­er briefly it was men­tioned. The author also slipped in Bell, Book, and Scandal with Shelley’s char­ac­ter. At one point, Jane was wor­ried that her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the mys­tery would annoy Shelley to the point of dam­ag­ing their friend­ship. The first reac­tion after read­ing these two sec­tions of the nov­els was, “huh?” Shelley would nev­er over­re­act like that. She should also know by now, after years of friend­ship with Jane, that Jane usu­al­ly does solve the mys­tery and her instincts for the solu­tion are usu­al­ly cor­rect.

A Midsummer’s Night Scream is clear­ly a con­tin­u­a­tion of the slow down­ward slide in qual­i­ty that began with Bell, Book, and Scandal, and ends with the hor­ri­ble The Accidental Florist.

Bell, Book, and Scandal had, I believe, only one change in view­point: we jar­ring­ly switch from Jane’s view­point to that of one of the vic­tims. A Midsummer’s Night Scream had sev­er­al changes in view­point, most­ly to Mel’s view, which is unusu­al in this series. In the pre­vi­ous books, Mel was nev­er a well-devel­oped char­ac­ter and we nev­er saw the mys­tery from his point of view, only Jane’s.

Unlike pre­vi­ous mys­ter­ies in this series, Jane does very lit­tle think­ing about this mys­tery and had almost no input into the solu­tion.

The odd­est part of this book: the epi­logue. No pre­vi­ous book in this series has ever done a “where are they now” end­ing to the sto­ry. It was out of place, not remote­ly enter­tain­ing, and again, not from Jane’s point of view. None of the “where are they now” state­ments would be any­thing Jane could pos­si­bly know.

Jill Churchill, if you are tired of writ­ing this series, just stop. Don’t try to wrap every­thing up neat­ly for Jane as you did in The Accidental Florist. Just stop writ­ing.

On a scale of 1 to 5, most of the Jane Jeffry Mysteries would get a 3 or 4. The pre­vi­ous book to this one, Bell, Book, and Scandal, would receive a 2, as would A Midsummer Night’s Scream. The final book in the series, The Accidental Florist, would receive a neg­a­tive num­ber if pos­si­ble.

Title: A Midsummer Night’s Scream
Author: Jill Churchill
Publisher: Avon Books
ISBN: 978–0-06–050100-6

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