Death on A Southern Breeze by Mark de Castrique

August 9, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): JUNE 1860 — A new locomotive christened A Southern Breeze steams across the Carolina countryside carrying seventeen-year-old Jeb Bennett and his twin sister Rachel Leigh to the exhilarating promise of a summer in Charleston.

While storm clouds gather over the landscape, fiercer storms rage inside the passenger cars. The tensions between North and South rapidly escalate until one traveler’s journey abruptly and brutally ends. Who was the murderer? Was the victim the real target? Amid swirling suspicions and deceptive intrigue, Jeb and Rachel Leigh join Pinkerton Detective Jonathan Ward in a race to unmask
a killer.

But murder isn’t the only evil Jeb must confront. As motives and suspects abound, Jeb learns what it means to place a price on a human life, not only as a victim of murder, but also as property to be traded and sold.

The final showdown means hard choices, a test of loyalties, and a face-to-face encounter with Death On A Southern Breeze.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I love locked room mysteries, so I was able to enjoy this book on at least an elementary level.
  • I liked that there weren’t very many characters to keep track of. Yes, it seemed odd that there were only about 9 or 10 people traveling on a train, but whatever. I would rather be able to keep everyone straight than have the author inflate the character count unnecessarily.
  • The solution seemed reasonable. The abolitionist accidentally killed Isaac and then tried to cover his tracks so the secret documents about the Underground Railroad wouldn’t be exposed. I can buy that.
  • The Samuel stuff was pretty interesting. The author was a bit heavy-handed with the “all men should be free and equal” sentiment, but I liked the attachment the slave showed to Jeb and Rachel Leigh.

Disliked:

  • I downloaded the e-book from my library without having read the description beforehand. Thus, I had no idea this was a “Young Adult” book until after I started it and wondered why the writing was so simplistic. Oh, well.
  • It was a tad far-fetched that the Pinkerton detective, Jonathan Ward, would tap a 17-year-old to be his assistant in investigating a grisly murder.
  • Speaking of Jeb, I thought his analysis of the crime scene was ridiculous. I mean, he was sooo insightful and accurate in every observation that it was impossible to believe that this was coming from a fresh-off-the-farm teenager. Yeah, right.
  • What was the point of having Allan Pinkerton make an appearance at the end of the novel? That just seemed incredibly cheesy to me, and I felt the book would have been better served without that final chapter and last “twist”.
  • I didn’t really understand why the train was commanded to stop on the tracks so Ward could interrogate the women. Yes, the author said it was too dangerous to have the women climbing between the cars at night, but that didn’t make much sense. Couldn’t Ward have gone to them? All I was thinking the whole time was that the killer could make a run for it under the cover of darkness.

Rating:

Death on A Southern Breeze wasn’t quite the whodunit I expected, since I wasn’t even aware it was a Young Adult book before I began reading it. Maybe junior high school kids would find this interesting; maybe not. I guess it depends on how well they relate to the 17-year-old protagonist Jeb. I personally thought he was a bit annoying, but I’m not the target audience so my opinion doesn’t count for much. At any rate, I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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