Notes on a camp mystery

Mystery in the Title
by Ian Ferguson and Will Ferguson

Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2024
$25.99 / 9781443470803

Reviewed by Candace Fertile


The Ferguson brothers introduced former TV star Miranda Abbott in I Only Read Murder, and she’s back in their new joint effort, Mystery in the Title, along with other familiar characters, including Andrew Nguyen, Miranda’s assistant, and Bea Maracle, owner of the B&B where Miranda lives. Bea is a ridiculously dedicated fan of Pastor Fran Investigates, the TV series Miranda starred in, so that sort of explains her devotion to the woman who treats her like a servant. Andrew’s loyalty is much harder to understand. 

Miranda is annoying and self-centred, yet she manages to gather people around her to do her bidding and support her in her attempts to regain her past fame. The novel starts as Andrew is videoing Miranda’s audition for a movie starring George Clooney. Miranda thinks the role will get her back to Hollywood and out of Happy Rock, Oregon. As the narrator comments, “Miranda, like every actor, was forever one role away from extravagant affluence.” 

The arch tone often verges on, or falls into camp, and it’s immediately apparent that the novel is a confection of such frothiness that any silliness can happen and often does in the loony movie world dominated by the conventions of Los Angeles where “perception was everything, reality just an annoying detail to get past.” 

Because Pastor Fran was a detective, Miranda and her fans often confuse Pastor Fran’s prowess at detecting with Miranda’s current life, and, just as in the first novel, once a murder happens, the slapstick ratchets up as various characters attempt to solve the crime. 

Authors Ian Ferguson and Will Ferguson (photo: David Kotsibie, courtesy Wordfest)

But that’s not the only mystery. Another perplexing situation is that Miranda has been asked to star in a movie of the week to be shot in Happy Rock. Her co-star is to be Harry Tomlin. Bea is beyond excited as Harry “has his own line of salad dressings.” The production manager, Adam Zabic, is sitting in a “sporty baby-blue Aston Martin, the kind James Bond might drive” and parked outside Bea’s B&B ready to hand deliver a script to Miranda while on the phone offering the role. 

Nothing makes much sense in any factual way, but then this novel isn’t tethered to authenticity: it’s bounding through streams of fantasy and delusion. It falls into the category of beach book, but the authors (Ian in Victoria, Will in Calgary) still have to show off some intellectual credibility by having characters argue over who versus whom and by including literary allusions, for example to Shakespeare’s Richard III and the Algonquin Round Table. 

And along with the mystery of why anyone wants to make this particular movie and who is the murderer (and why), the Fergusons add a few romantic guessing games. Will Bea and her besotted beau Ned Baker, Chief of Police, ever get together apart from their weekly viewing of an episode of Pastor Fran? Will Miranda finally get divorced from her husband Edgar, the former head writer on Pastor Fran who has been running a bookstore in Happy Rock for years?

Reading I Only Read Murder before this second Miranda Abbott mystery is not necessary, but readers who enjoy a goofy, amusing, and often clever mystery novel that manages to make fun of so many characters while often injecting a charming sweetness will be rewarded by starting with the initial novel. The Ferguson brothers have succeeded in writing a lighthearted romp through murder and thus delivering an entertaining summer read.


Candace Fertile

Candace Fertile has a PhD in English literature from the University of Alberta. She teaches English at Camosun College in Victoria, writes book reviews for several Canadian publications, and is on the editorial board of Room Magazine. [Editor’s note: Candace Fertile has reviewed books by Shashi Bhat, Carleigh Baker, Kathryn Mockler, Lucia Frangione, Darcy Friesen Hossack, Robin Yeatman, Emi Sasagawa, Patti Flather, Peter Chapman, Janie Chang, Pauline Holdstock, Ava BellowsBeth KopeGeoff Inverarity, and Angélique Lalonde for BCR.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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