New Review: a memorable mystery that avid whodunnit readers can sink their teeth into.

Official Review: A Dream to Die For by Susan Z. Ritz

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "A Dream to Die For" by Susan Z. Ritz. Click here to see the original post.]

A seemingly luckless woman is at the heart of Susan Ritz’s debut mystery, A Dream to Die For. Celeste Fortune (wryly referred to as “Miss Fortune”) just wants to get her life together. She wants nothing more to do with Larry Blatsky, her sleazebag of a therapist who’d kept her shackled to dream therapy for nearly four years. She wants out of Dreamland, Larry’s tightly knit (and increasingly cultish) community of clients who call themselves the Dreamers. She wants to get her fiancé, Jake Kelly, back.

But then Celeste has a strange dream: A woman stands in a kitchen while a sinister shadow creeps from behind and proceeds to strangle her. She turns to Larry for a possible interpretation, but he lashes out instead in rage and fear. Hours later, Larry is murdered in his office, and by some stroke of misfortune, it’s Celeste who finds the body. As her life devolves into a whirlwind of police interrogations, hostile encounters with grief-stricken Dreamers, and repeated attempts on her life, Celeste finds a welcome ally in Gloria Cross, an estranged friend who was once a Dreamer herself.

A perplexing crime, a rural setting, a cast of quirky characters, and a reluctant amateur sleuth are staples of the cozy mystery genre, and everything comes alive at the tip of Ritz’s pen. The puzzle of Larry’s death drives the plot forward, and Ritz cleverly roots the answer in the tangled web of the character’s relationships, both personal and professional, past and present. In any other location, several plot points may seem like too much of a coincidence, but the small town of Riverton Falls renders everything plausible, the claustrophobic atmosphere providing the perfect set-up for the mystery to unfold. Many characters of interest populate the town, several of whom are not exactly who they seem. It’s easy to empathize with Celeste’s confusion and frustration as even those closest to her — Jake and Gloria, for instance — know more than they’re letting on. The truth behind Larry’s fixation with dreams leads to a fascinating twist where the lines between mysticism and technology are blurred.

DreamTDF-cover.png

And yet well-executed as they are, A Dream to Die For is more than just the sum of these parts. Even as Ritz keeps the tone light and amusing, there are powerful messages that ring through the story. Celeste’s involvement with Larry and the Dreamers is a cautionary tale of sorts, and though the psychology is frightening, Ritz depicts cult behavior with neither judgment nor condemnation. Everyone here is flawed, especially Celeste herself, and Ritz allows the readers to make up their own minds about the characters — hero, villain, or otherwise. The theme of loving who you are is also a beautiful takeaway from the story. “We all have crazy reasons and rioting pathologies to struggle with,” Gloria tells Celeste. “We need to recognize them and love them as part of the bigger picture of who we are.”

I rate A Dream to Die For 3 out of 4 stars. Though there are no wasted moments in the narrative, Celeste’s story moves at a rather deliberate pace. There is some repetition of facts (e.g., how a character died), and there are minor typographical errors (e.g., missing quotation marks) scattered throughout the pages. Nevertheless, A Dream to Die For is a memorable mystery that avid whodunnit readers can sink their teeth into. Anyone interested in dream therapy will also find the book enlightening (Ritz really did her research well in this regard), and those who like empowered female characters will find many to root for in this story.

******