Dead Man's Hand by Eddie Jones This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

November 21, 2012
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At one point in Dead Man’s Hand, a middle grade mystery by Eddie Jones, amateur sleuth Nick Caden is explaining his detective work to another character. Nick solves crimes by comparing the facts of the case to crime cases that he has seen on television shows. Speaking about the latest crime he is trying to solve, Nick says, “Did you know there are over seven television episodes almost identical to this one?”
This sentence sums up most of what is wrong with this novel. In Dead Man’s Hand, Jones offers readers a tightly paced and occasionally surprising mystery that nonetheless falls into far too many of the clichés of the genre and ultimately fails to do enough to set itself apart.
Dead Man’s Hand opens with the main character, Nick, arriving at a vacation spot that is a recreation of a Wild West ghost town. Immediately upon arrival, he witnesses the murder of a young cowboy, but the body vanishes, and no one takes Nick seriously when he insists that a crime has been committed. He sets about investigating possible suspects with the help of a new friend named Annie and a skeptical town marshal.
Nick is a member of the Cyber Sleuths, an online club of amateur detectives who solve mysteries using their extensive knowledge of crime television shows. With a main character as genre-savvy as Nick, this novel should have something to set it apart from standard mysteries. The author could have written a tongue-in-cheek parody of the clichés of mystery novels or a complex, carefully crafted mystery with layers of stories within stories.
Disappointingly, Dead Man’s Hand is neither of those things. It is an ordinary mystery story, full of the stock suspects, plot twists, and red herrings that come with the genre. There is the amateur kid sleuth whom nobody takes seriously, the violent and shady suspect who turns out to be innocent, the mysterious romantic interest who ends up as a suspect herself, and the gunpoint confrontation with the murderer.
All of this falls especially flat when seen through the eyes of the main character, Nick. He knows seemingly everything about the tropes of mystery stories, and he constantly reminds the reader how this case is exactly the same as dozens of others in books or on television. With his detached, unemotional narration, he gives the novel the feel of a laundry list of clues and suspects lined up for the reader to inspect rather than an exciting mystery told in the context of an engaging story.
Even with a disengaged narrator and overused plot devices, Dead Man’s Hand is a perfectly solid addition to the admittedly saturated field of children’s mystery novels. It does have a few memorable moments, and the plot overall moves along nicely and with plenty of suspense. Nick’s characterization and the writing style both smooth out after a rough, unbelievable first few chapters. From then on, the story certainly contains its share of tightly paced action scenes and surprising twists. Some questions are left unanswered at the end of the novel, but it is the first book in a planned series, so presumably the loose ends will be tied up in subsequent installments. However, a lackluster cast of supporting characters and sometimes-clunky writing style fail to elevate this mystery above the realm of good but forgettable.
On a side note, the series is puzzlingly billed as being “paranormal;” there were only a few comments about the possibility of ghosts being real and no actual supernatural activity in the first book. Although set in a Wild West “ghost town,” the mystery had a realistic solution that was not in the least paranormal. Though magic did not come into play, philosophical discussions between characters and the discovery of a mysterious Bible did set up a religious-themed subplot that was never satisfactorily resolved.
Dead Man’s Hand makes for a tense, enjoyable read, but ultimately its flaws and clichés outweigh the appeal of its fast-paced plot. Readers will most likely be left wondering why they bothered when they feel as though they have read the same story many times before.

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