Divorce Is Murder: A Toby Wong Novel (Toby Wong: Vancouver Island Mystery) By Elka Ray  

 Elka Ray's latest book is a gripping mystery set in Victoria, British Columbia, a tale that combines romance and murder.

Publisher: Seventh Street Books (Simon & Schuster)  Publication Date: August 20, 2019

My thanks to the author and to Henry Roi of Crime Wave Press who sent me a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

The book blurb states:

As teens, they bullied her. Twenty years on, she's not scared of them. Except she should be. After returning to her quiet hometown to care for her ailing mom, divorce lawyer Toby Wong is hired by Josh Barton, a guy who broke her heart as a teen at summer camp. Now a wealthy entrepreneur, Josh wants to divorce Tonya, the mean girl who tormented Toby all those years ago.

When Tonya is found murdered, Josh is the prime suspect. Together with her fortune-teller mom and her pregnant best friend, Toby sets out to clear Josh, whom she still has a guilty crush on. As she delves deeper into Tonya's murder, Toby keeps running into catty ex-campers she'd rather forget.

Are her old insecurities making her paranoid? Only too late does she realize she's in danger. The first entry in an addictive new series, Divorce is Murder introduces fans of mystery and romance to an irresistibly smart and sarcastic new heroine - Chinese Canadian divorce lawyer Toby Wong. 

 

Here are my thoughts:

After receiving my copy—full disclosure this is my first such review— I was understandably nervous. Wondering what if I didn’t like the writing or the story etc.  My plan was to read a couple of chapters before I committed—to see if I was going to be “in to it”.

Before I knew it hours had past— my to do list forgotten and mostly undone. The story kept me up late that night and right back into it the next morning. I finished it by early afternoon.

“Divorce is Murder” is an addictive page turner (finger swiper)  that is full of plot twists and turns.  A story that is equal parts romance, millennial, murder mystery and psychological thriller—it is short (barely over 200 pages) and reads fast.

Right book, right time. It provided just the type of read that my brain was longing for—a bit of escapism away from more serious heavy non-fiction professional reading that has recently filled my valuable reading time.

Don’t get me wrong I can find entertainment in all types of reading material but for the most part I also expect it to educate and challenge me.

But every once in awhile you need a read that wipes the slate clean, so to speak. I call these books palate cleansers—pure pleasures that leave a good taste in your mouth.

I used to spend many enjoyable reading hours snuggled in with the cosy mysteries of Diane Mott Davidson, Lillian Braun Jackson, and Mary Daheim.  Elka Ray fits right in to this mix. This is a genre that has been missing in my reading life of late. I hope indeed that Ms. Ray spends more time with Toby as I definitely would read more.

I do have a couple of remarks:

I imagine writing a short length novel comes with some necessary constraint—such writing does not leave a lot of room for expansive character development or deeper storylines. The author must provide just enough detail to color in the lines of her characters and locations— to provide a sense of personality, give a visual and to set the scene.

I personally found character development in this book to be a little lacking and at times certain characters are more like cardboard cut outs. The author provides just enough detail to keep the various plot lines a float but mostly relies on juxtaposing action scenes for forward momentum.

What I am expressing-- very poorly I imagine— is that my remark is not meant as a negative it is instead intended to simply mean that I wanted more— not just the bare bones. I loved her characters, the storyline and always found myself wanting more backstory, more detail, more interaction.  I found Toby to be very engaging but struggled with the little we learn of Josh, Ivy and many others. These bare threads left me at times a little confused. I wanted more depth and a better understanding.

For example: One chapter Josh is a multimillion dollar IT guy who in the next chapter is now making a living running a charter boat and the next doing IT consulting at his old company? Ivy’s cancer story is also very vague not to mention that Toby spends very little time with her mom during this story so one would hope that she is at the very least in remission… Nor do I buy all of the plotting devices--especially when it comes to lawyers going on dates with clients.

Several Personal Pet Peeves that irritated but did not take away from my enjoyment of this novel.

 Grievance One: 

I am a Yoga teacher and I was dismayed to find the author resorting to tired old social media portrayals of those of us who practice Yoga. Ivy was portrayed as nothing more than the often ridiculed cliched characterization...to quote the author. "The way some traumatized people find God, my mom found New Age mumbo jumbo, Yoga and astrology were her entry drugs...gypsy clothing and crystals...chanting and chakra balancing...a never ending embarrassment. 

Just for once it would be a welcome relief to see a Yogi characterized as a person that used this ancient practice as it is intended.  A traumatized person who through their practice found a strength of mind that enabled them to find a firm footing and a self-reliant life.

The science of Yoga does not promise to remove pain, it promises to help a person see things as they really are, quiet the mind, and removing suffering.

That being said I have ended relationships with teachers after they told of spirit journeys in which they met their family of spiritual guides and animals. I am not a huge fan of woo-woo spiritualism. I side with Toby on that point.

There is perhaps redemption in books to come as I was often left with the impression that the author was moving towards Toby becoming more of a believer than she wanted to admit, especially after events that occurred later in the book.

Grievance Two: 

I teach Pre-Natal Yoga, childbirth education and I am a Birth Doula. I believe that adding a very pregnant woman in a beginning chapter is akin to adding a gun to the first scene. Someone will shoot said gun before the story ends and the woman will go into labor before the book ends.

I was very apprehensive. I am a person known to stand up and yell at my TV set when faced with the outright ridiculous portrayal of birth on television, in movies, and on the internet. I would do a disservice to my profession if I do not say my piece. I only hope the author is as much into science as she claims.

I was extraordinarily pleased that the actual birth took place "off page" as this kept my disgruntlement to a minimum. I have absolutely no sense of humor in this regard.

Authors are allowed to let their fictional characters believe what ever they will and historians are stuck with whatever their subjects actually believed.  BUT the truth of the matter is that the “birth industry” is a total mess at the moment. It would be nice to see childbirth portrayed accurately --particularly by women. Women need to stand together right now and say truth.

 Near the end of the novel, Quinn is having Braxton Hicks contractions which are explained as false practice contractions. 100% not true. Early contractions such as B-H are responsible for moving the cervix, the uterus and the baby into position, they are also work with various hormones to ripen, soften, thin, and dilate the cervix. They are 100% not false. Certainly use their presence to practice various labor pain management tools. They are real. 

Speaking truth removes ignorance which removes fear which removes suffering which eases pain. 

After witnessing Quinn's B-H contraction, Toby opines that birth is one of nature’s cruel jokes especially on women.

I hang my head and cry. The Patriarchy truly has won if women continue to promote false knowledge about our bodies and birth.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ELKA RAY 

Elka Ray writes fast-paced romantic mysteries and scary thrillers - a dichotomy that reveals her belief in Yin and Yang, or the balance of opposites. A great lover of scientific facts, she may be found clutching crystals for good luck; reads highbrow journals and tabloid trash; and refuses to watch rom-coms yet moved in with her now-husband on their first date.

Elka is the author of three novels – the romantic mysteries DIVORCE IS MURDER and HANOI JANE – and the noir thriller SAIGON DARK. She also has a collection of short crime and ghost stories set in Southeast Asia – WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW.

Elka lives with her family near Hoi An, Vietnam.

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