Easily Amused coverEasily Amused, written by self-publishing phenomenon Karen McQuestion, is probably best enjoyed by people who would describe themselves by the title.And that is, for better or worse, a sword that cuts both ways.

Easily Amused hits its stride in the first paragraph. Tight-knit, clever; it had me laughing within two pages. The descriptions are both memorable and witty, the situation is multi-layered yet pleasingly simple– a young new homeowner unintentionally comes upon a group of intrusive neighbors who have clearly been discussing her behind her back– and the banter which ensues had me penning “Hah!” and “Brilliant!” in the margins more than once.

That was, however, the high point. Despite a catty premise that should have carried it right to the just desserts we hoped for on the last page, Amused begins to meander and actually loses its way when it’s still only half-poured. Chapter 19 was the point where my slowing trickle of positive margin-commentary ran dry. Twin roads of blank margin-space stretch out to Chapter 25, where I finally felt inspired to use my pen again, but not for praise. My note reads: Sudden plunge in quality. Original and snappy dialogue gives way to line after line in which the characters say the most obvious thing they possibly could say, the once-vivid descriptions evaporate, nearly every single event is “like a movie!” and the native humor of the heroine’s situation breaks down.

This is the tale of Lola Watson. A slightly introverted but modestly successful magazine editor, Watson has just inherited a stately house from a late aunt that she never really knew. She is 29, somewhat overwhelmed by the overtures of her new neighbors, and trying to find a time of day or night in which she can take out the garbage without being hello’ed! and talked-at by the local population.

Watson is best friends with an unfortunate gentleman named Hubert Holmes, whose bad luck in romance finds him in sudden dire need of a friend with a bedroom to spare. Within hours of this event, Watson is plagued by the descent of her immature, jealous, and (honestly rather nasty) younger sister. The Younger Watson has plans to humiliate Older Watson at an upcoming family wedding. Panic! What can be done? Well, it just so happens that Watson’s best friend considers the Problem for a Whole Three Seconds and is able to find a devious solution. Enter a suave and mysterious man named Ryan Moriarty. Watson and Moriarty start dating in order to wreak a little turn-around on Younger Watson, and hilarity ensues.

Or, it ought to, but . . . doesn’t, really.

After the bold move of styling her characters after Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle’s infamous trio, McQuestion should have followed with a hard-hitting caper worthy of those names . . . But it reads more like parody.

Holmes turns out to be an annoyance who accomplishes little besides halfhearted house chores, Moriarty is so transparently suspicious that it’s a letdown when we finally discover that his worst infractions against humanity involve paying his property taxes late (but he still pays them!) and telling the women he dates that he doesn’t mind at all if they see other people as well. Our flabby-willed narrator Watson turns out to be so spineless that she spends the whole book just doing what other people tell her, stopping at every turn to explain objects of common knowledge to the reader. (Do you know how to make the A-Ok sign with your hand? Yes? But have you heard how Watson does it? Your fingers have to be spread like a peacock’s tail. The peacock is the key! Once you have mastered this challenging concept, Watson is ready to inform you that “ferocity” is a word. A real word! And Watson can even tell you what a “smart casual” outfit looks like).

All of this could be forgiven except for one thing. Watson has no curiosity. Whatsoever. She has just moved into this mysterious old house full of secret money-stashes, secret diaries, secret keys, and secret intentions left in the will of late Aunt May…. so what does Watson do? She ignores all of that. She doesn’t even dislike it; she’s just indifferent. Unfortunately this exiles the most interesting part of the book to that vague realm of the “non-explicit reference.” We never get even a glimpse of a secret.

But, well, there are other mysteries to solve! Nearly everyone in the neighborhood seems to be up to something shifty. Does Watson investigate? No.

Even when faced with the dilemma of something as mundane as sand pouring into her sandals when she walks on the beach, Watson seems incapable of leaping to action. Moriarty is no brain, either. It takes him some pensive seconds to come up with the genius plan that Watson remove her shoes. (And it takes them a few tries to figure out how to accomplish said task, unfortunately).

Meanwhile, Holmes sits alone in Aunt May’s dusty attic weeping over her diaries (what man does this?) and Educated Guess Pinot Noircommenting how “nice” it is when one journal notes that a cake was baked for a neighbor (again . . . what man does this?). It’s enough to make me think that instead of Holmes, he ought to have been named Stepford.

Had this book been written as a parody, it could almost have been genius. I wish McQuestion had seated us within the perspective of one of the neighbors, able to watch Holmes, the Two Watsons, and Moriarty make utter fools of themselves from an amusing distance.

But if you are easily entertained (or decide to skip the book and pour yourself a glass anyway), pair Amused with a better tribute to the infamous sleuth: a rich and complex Cabernet Sauvignon called Educated Guess.

– Noir