I did receive an advance copy of The Slime Mold Murder. I usually decline to do advance reviews as my blogging and writing schedule means I just don’t have time to write a proper review anymore.
Also, if you have been a reader of mine for a while, you know I rarely write reviews for books I don’t like, no matter how much I like the author because I hate hurting peoples’ feelings.
However, when I was approached about drawing the map that is featured in the front, what I was told about the book intrigued me. I had read and loved other work by this author, most especially Larry’s Post-Rapture Pet Sitting Service.
But first, The Blurb for The Slime Mold Murder :
A Winner of the 2020 IPPY Gold Medal for best regional fiction, Ellen King Rice is back with a fourth biological adventure set in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, this time exploring the fascinating world of the Myxogastria slime molds.
At nineteen, Dylan’s brilliant mind is an asset as he struggles with severe ADHD and deteriorating living conditions. He’s one semester away from completing his college degree in ecology, but he’s out of cash, out of soap, and about to be evicted.
A post-pandemic opportunity to survey a rural property sounds like a lifeline. The owner of a creepy faux-chateau is ready to pay a handsome wage for a list of species found on the property. Dylan can’t believe his good luck. He’s about to be paid to wander in the woods. Sure, there’s some bookkeeping, but how hard can it be to make a plant list?
The neighborhood, however, has other residents, including a metal sculpture artist, nudists, two homeless men, and a conservative county commissioner, each with their own definition of freedom and their own ways of interacting with the land.
When a body is found in the woods Dylan’s work opportunity is threatened. He needs to uncover the reason for the death, but Dylan’s lightning-fast mind is constantly undermined by his poor executive functioning. He can discourse eloquently on the significance of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, but he can’t find his wallet. He longs to adopt an orphaned West Highland terrier, but he’s not sure he’d remember to feed a dog. He certainly can’t afford a bag of dog kibble, much less the repairs needed on his vintage Honda.
How can Dylan’s intuitive grasp of ecology and the complex life cycles of the Myxogastria help to expose a killer? And how does he protect his employer, his professor, his friends and a small, confused dog from those who eagerly embrace violence?
Dylan Kushner is a 19-year-old genius coping with absentee parents, financial insecurity, looming homelessness, and worry about paying for his last semester of school. He also lives with ADHD and dysgraphia, which impairs his ability to translate his thoughts into handwritten words. Through his college classes, he is befriended by good people who give him the tools to be independent.
Mari is a fellow student, bumbling her way to adulthood. Alyson is the precocious twelve-year-old daughter of Wade Witecki. All the many characters in this mystery are engaging and either likable or unlikeable as they would be in real life. One even empathizes with the characters who fall into the gray area between good and evil.
I enjoyed how Rice framed opening chapters, introducing us to the players. She uses action and interaction to show the lengths some powerful people are willing to go to when their cherished beliefs are threatened. Once we have met everyone, it’s clear that a clash of epic proportions looms.
While the narrative is a little science-heavy at times, it moves along well, with the events occurring as they might in real life. Each character’s reactions and subsequent actions are logical, yet just when you think you have it figured out, you don’t.
The world Rice presents to us is solidly formed. I found it easy to be immersed in the dampness and subtle smells of the forest as the characters worked their way through the mystery. In the process, we see the general unpleasantness some people have a knack for, the kindnesses people are capable of, and the evil that lurks in the soul of others.
If you love learning about the natural world and also love a good mystery that is strong on science, the Slime Mold Murder is the book is for you.
Ellen King Rice is a wildlife biologist who explores the woods while wearing leg braces. Her slow pace has provided opportunities to learn about the Northwest’s small and cryptic species. Her vivid adventures shine a spotlight on the richness found on the forest floor, augmented by crisp illustrations from Olympia artist, Duncan Sheffels. This award-winning pair have been charming woodland lovers since 2016.
You can find Ellen and her books at www.ellenkingrice.com
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