By Raymond Benson

Beaufort Books


350pp/$24.95/October 2022

The Mad, Mad Murders of Marigold Way

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Raymond Benson offers a mystery on a quiet street in the Chicago suburbs in The Mad, Mad Murders of Marigold Way. Set during the first May of the COVID-19 pandemic, the novel has a strangely nostalgic feel for that time when people were just beginning to venture back out into the world after the initial lockdown. Benson focuses his attention on Scott Hatcher, a semi-successful author, and Set Schoenberg, the teenager who mows Scott's lawn.

The novel opens with Scott awakening to an empty house. When his wife doesn't return from her morning walk as he expects, he begins to get concerned since there weren't many places she could with so much of the world still closed down. Eventually reporting her missing, Scott also learns that his neighbor, John Bergman, is also missing. Over the course of the week, the police investigation would tie the two disappearances together and the police, as well as Scott and John's wife, Rachel, try to piece together what happened.

Despite being a small suburban street, Marigold Way is populated with a wide range of characters, from the Don Trainer, a Seth's friend who enjoys blowing up garbage cans with Molotov cocktails, to the Woos, a couple of immigrants who run a chain of Chinese restaurants, to Thomas Bergman, John's precocious fourteen-year-old stepson. Keeping track of all these characters and more is the nameless narrator who opens each chapter by addressing the reader directly.

Despite the violence that flares up occasionally in the novel, Marigold Way remains a relatively peaceful street, with most of the neighbors minding their own business, or at most offering significant glares when things don't seem to occur the way they should expect. Masking and social distancing emerge throughout the story, as well as the constant concern that someone might contract COVID, especially for Seth's family, since his mother is working as a nurse in a hospital.

The novel seems to undergo a change about two third of the way through when Scott, Seth, and other characters, who had been making intelligent and rational decisions throughout the book to that point start to make bad calls, which the narrator passes off as making decisions late at night or during emotional times. While some of these decisions clearly had seeds planted earlier, the suddenness with which all commonsense leaves characters who had demonstrated restraint up to that point is shocking.

Benson introduces a large cast of characters, many of them appearing only briefly, but it expands the potential list of suspects. Although the culprit of the murders seems to be readily identifiable, Benson does include a twist in the details. Furthermore, there are more crimes occurring on Marigold Way than initially appear and different people may be behind different crimes. Since much of the story is told from Scott's point of view as he becomes paranoid about how people are viewing him in the way of his wife's disappearance, Benson provides enough suspicion to go around.

While The Mad, Mad Murders of Marigold Way is an enjoyable novel, it is not, ultimately, satisfying. The change in characters midway through and the ultimate twist Benson reveals undermines the characters he has built up throughout the novel. The twist also makes theonder if the revealed motives, crimes, and perpetrators are really what Benson reveals. Finally, Benson's chatty narrator comments that things don't always wrap up neatly, which focuses on the reader's attention on the many loose ends that Benson has left in the novel.

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