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West Heart Kill

A novel

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Large Print (Large Print - Tradepaper)
$30.00 US
| $39.99 CAN
On sale Nov 14, 2023 | 400 Pages | 978-0-593-79305-3
SHORTLISTED FOR THE CWA NEW BLOOD DAGGER AWARD

LOOKING FOR AN ANYTHING-BUT-ORDINARY WHODUNIT? • Welcome to the West Heart Club. Where the drinks are neat but behind closed doors . . . things can get messy. Where upright citizens are deemed downright boring. Where the only missing piece of the puzzle is you, dear reader.

A unique and irresistible murder mystery set at a remote hunting lodge where everyone is a suspect, including the erratic detective on the scenea remarkable debut that gleefully upends the rules of the genre.


"A thoroughly original suspense novel that hops across elements of the genre—a diabolical locked-room mystery interspersed with a fascinating primer on the form—while always being tremendous fun to read."—Chris Pavone, best-selling author of Two Nights in Lisbon

An isolated hunt club. A raging storm. Three corpses, discovered within four days. A cast of monied, scheming, unfaithful characters.

When private detective Adam McAnnis joins an old college friend for the Bicentennial weekend at the exclusive West Heart club in upstate New York, he finds himself among a set of not-entirely-friendly strangers. Then the body of one of the members is found at the lake’s edge; hours later, a major storm hits. By the time power is restored on Sunday, two more people will be dead . . .
Thursday

This murder mystery, like all murder mysteries, begins with the evocation of what the reader understands to be its atmosphere, the accumulation of small, curated details to create a shared myth of mood, time, and place—though not all at once, of course, that is important. The writer of murder, like all writers, must be a miser, conceding revelations bit by bit; for every novel is a puzzle, and every reader a sleuth.

Not all mysteries begin with the protagonist, but this one does. He is riding in the passenger seat of a car; these opening sentences don’t reveal the year, model, and make, that would be too simple, but you do see the protagonist pushing an 8-track into the dashboard, Wings at the Speed of Sound, music bounces out—“Let ’Em In.” The protagonist is smoking something, a joint, passing it back to a new character, the driver, whose presence was implied at the start of this paragraph but never explicitly stated . . . The two men—yes, both men—are dressed similarly, in clothes of an era that is not your own but that you recognize from film and television: the clues accumulate . . .

And now a crucial moment, the first bit of dialogue:

“What do they hunt at this hunting club?”

“Deer, mostly. Pheasant. A bear, once in a while.”

“People?”

“Only each other.”

They laugh, but you are thrilled; you think, perhaps, of the plot of “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which a rich eccentric lures unsuspecting men to his island, to hunt for sport . . . Is this to be that kind of story? But listen, they are speaking again:

“My family is one of the poorest here. We’re really only allowed to stay because we were originals, founding members.”

“How many families?”

“Maybe three dozen? More? They all have their own cabins, all over the property. Every few years, a member leaves, a new one is added. The dues are steep.”

“And what does all that money get you?”

“Hunting grounds. A lake stocked with fish and canoes. The clubhouse. Meals prepared for big parties.”

“Like this one.”

“Yes, fireworks on the Fourth of July. Also, Memorial Day . . . Labor Day . . . New Year’s. Any excuse, really, to drink too much and ogle other people’s wives.”

“There are less expensive ways to have an affair.”

“These people have money to burn. Or did. But what they’re really paying for is separation. Privacy. Miles and miles of empty trails. Graves in which to bury their secrets.”

“Will you get any reaction for inviting a bum like me?”

“No, they’ll view you as a new toy, something to toss from one paw to another and then be condescending about later, over drinks.”

“Sounds wonderful.”

“It’s worth it, just to get out of the city. It’s falling apart. And too goddamn hot right now. You said you didn’t have any work, anyway.”

“I did get one case.”

“What is it?”

“Nothing interesting. Not in the city.”

“Fine, don’t tell me. Anyway, I think the women will like you . . .”

The joint has burned down to the roach; a state-police cruiser passes, and both men’s eyes dart warily to the rearview mirror—shit, did he see them, is he going to turn around, lights and siren blaring .  .  . And it’s only now that the dialogue’s clues begin to click into place; you’re convinced, though nothing thus far indicates one way or another, that the protagonist is the stranger who’s been invited up for the weekend, and that the driver is the one dropping all those artfully foreshadowed details about the hunting club. You now know the date, perhaps the decade, too; the socioeconomic status of this hunting club; and perhaps also something about the moral character of its members. These insinuations of sex don’t disturb you, you’re no prude, though it’s not exactly what you’re looking for from a mystery; in fact, you’re hoping this is not one of those books where the author embroiders or obscures the story with sex or violence or gimmickry. The real writers, the ones you trust and return to again and again, have no need of such cheap deceits.

The police cruiser continues out of sight, and both men relax. They switch on the radio, which is broadcasting an ominous weather report, and their talk turns to matters that need not concern us here: old friends, politics, film, music . . . You sense they knew each other quite well, long ago, but haven’t talked much in recent years, and you wonder why, now, they have become reacquainted. You sense that this, too, might be part of the mystery.

But you are also pondering that earlier word case: is our protagonist, then, a private detective? You feel the book settle into the comfortable formula of its genre. Of course there is a detective, there must be a detective. Very well, then. You can perceive the contours of the plot ahead, anticipate its false clues and blind alleys, the ways in which this writer will try to conceal the truth in plain sight, like a purloined letter on a mantelpiece; you just hope that the rules of the form are followed, because a mystery that cheats is the worst kind of fraud.

But we’ll return to those rules later; for now the car’s wheels are crunching on gravel as it turns off the main highway and onto the unpaved road that must lead to the hunting club and, you anticipate, to death . . . Orange no trespassing signs are nailed to trees along the road, each emblazoned with the name of the club—West Heart—and its insignia: a bear’s head with two rifles crossed behind it, resembling, you can’t help but think, a skull and crossbones.
“Potent. . . . McDorman's knowledge is abundant, as is his cleverness.”
Sarah Weinman, The New York Times Book Review

“Fun, clever, and innovative. A remarkable novel by a major talent, who has created a crime novel that feels entirely unique.”
Stuart Turton, international best-selling author of The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

"West Heart Kill is a true unicorn: a thoroughly original suspense novel that hops across elements of the genre—spot-on historical fiction and a diabolical locked-room mystery interspersed with a fascinating primer on the history of the form—while always being tremendous fun to read."
—Chris Pavone, New York Times best-selling author of Two Nights in Lisbon

“A crime novel that unpicks traditional storytelling… engrossing, surprising, clever, genre-bending.”
New York Times best-selling author Val McDermid

“A brain-teaser and a crowd-pleaser. I loved it.”
Benjamin Stevenson, author of Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone

 “Phenomenal…totally unique . . . a treat for every murder mystery fan.”
Janice Hallett, author of The Appeal

“McDorman simultaneously revels in and comments on the multi-faceted plot as the narrator directly addresses the reader with the assumption that she is equally knowledgeable and ardent about mysteries, decanting intriguing insights into the genre and its luminaries . . . McDorman is funny, canny, and nimble in this clever, unusual, and enormously entertaining mix of criticism and suspense, this mystery propelled by witty banter, hidden trauma, messy affairs, and vicious schemes.”
Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Entertaining.”
—Kirkus Reviews


West Heart Kill is definitely ambitious and absolutely entertaining…. McDorman does an excellent job of peeling the onion-like layers of his detective tale, carefully doling out surprises as the pages turn…. Sure to spawn exceptionally lively book club debates.”
—BookPage
 
"A delightful spin on the form." 
—CrimeReads

“Irresistible..... West Heart Kill is about both the rules and the breaking of the rules, the conventions of the murder mystery and their subversion.... A complete original – and a total delight.”
—BookTrib

“This is no run of the mill whodunnit — the writing swiftly causes readers to sit up and take notice, and pay attention…. Both honoring the classic crime genre and turning it on its head, this is a talented unique read.” 
—Belfast Telegraph            
© Beowulf Sheehan
DANN McDORMAN is an Emmy-nominated TV news producer, who has also worked as a newspaper reporter, book reviewer, and cabinet maker. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. View titles by Dann McDorman

About

SHORTLISTED FOR THE CWA NEW BLOOD DAGGER AWARD

LOOKING FOR AN ANYTHING-BUT-ORDINARY WHODUNIT? • Welcome to the West Heart Club. Where the drinks are neat but behind closed doors . . . things can get messy. Where upright citizens are deemed downright boring. Where the only missing piece of the puzzle is you, dear reader.

A unique and irresistible murder mystery set at a remote hunting lodge where everyone is a suspect, including the erratic detective on the scenea remarkable debut that gleefully upends the rules of the genre.


"A thoroughly original suspense novel that hops across elements of the genre—a diabolical locked-room mystery interspersed with a fascinating primer on the form—while always being tremendous fun to read."—Chris Pavone, best-selling author of Two Nights in Lisbon

An isolated hunt club. A raging storm. Three corpses, discovered within four days. A cast of monied, scheming, unfaithful characters.

When private detective Adam McAnnis joins an old college friend for the Bicentennial weekend at the exclusive West Heart club in upstate New York, he finds himself among a set of not-entirely-friendly strangers. Then the body of one of the members is found at the lake’s edge; hours later, a major storm hits. By the time power is restored on Sunday, two more people will be dead . . .

Excerpt

Thursday

This murder mystery, like all murder mysteries, begins with the evocation of what the reader understands to be its atmosphere, the accumulation of small, curated details to create a shared myth of mood, time, and place—though not all at once, of course, that is important. The writer of murder, like all writers, must be a miser, conceding revelations bit by bit; for every novel is a puzzle, and every reader a sleuth.

Not all mysteries begin with the protagonist, but this one does. He is riding in the passenger seat of a car; these opening sentences don’t reveal the year, model, and make, that would be too simple, but you do see the protagonist pushing an 8-track into the dashboard, Wings at the Speed of Sound, music bounces out—“Let ’Em In.” The protagonist is smoking something, a joint, passing it back to a new character, the driver, whose presence was implied at the start of this paragraph but never explicitly stated . . . The two men—yes, both men—are dressed similarly, in clothes of an era that is not your own but that you recognize from film and television: the clues accumulate . . .

And now a crucial moment, the first bit of dialogue:

“What do they hunt at this hunting club?”

“Deer, mostly. Pheasant. A bear, once in a while.”

“People?”

“Only each other.”

They laugh, but you are thrilled; you think, perhaps, of the plot of “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which a rich eccentric lures unsuspecting men to his island, to hunt for sport . . . Is this to be that kind of story? But listen, they are speaking again:

“My family is one of the poorest here. We’re really only allowed to stay because we were originals, founding members.”

“How many families?”

“Maybe three dozen? More? They all have their own cabins, all over the property. Every few years, a member leaves, a new one is added. The dues are steep.”

“And what does all that money get you?”

“Hunting grounds. A lake stocked with fish and canoes. The clubhouse. Meals prepared for big parties.”

“Like this one.”

“Yes, fireworks on the Fourth of July. Also, Memorial Day . . . Labor Day . . . New Year’s. Any excuse, really, to drink too much and ogle other people’s wives.”

“There are less expensive ways to have an affair.”

“These people have money to burn. Or did. But what they’re really paying for is separation. Privacy. Miles and miles of empty trails. Graves in which to bury their secrets.”

“Will you get any reaction for inviting a bum like me?”

“No, they’ll view you as a new toy, something to toss from one paw to another and then be condescending about later, over drinks.”

“Sounds wonderful.”

“It’s worth it, just to get out of the city. It’s falling apart. And too goddamn hot right now. You said you didn’t have any work, anyway.”

“I did get one case.”

“What is it?”

“Nothing interesting. Not in the city.”

“Fine, don’t tell me. Anyway, I think the women will like you . . .”

The joint has burned down to the roach; a state-police cruiser passes, and both men’s eyes dart warily to the rearview mirror—shit, did he see them, is he going to turn around, lights and siren blaring .  .  . And it’s only now that the dialogue’s clues begin to click into place; you’re convinced, though nothing thus far indicates one way or another, that the protagonist is the stranger who’s been invited up for the weekend, and that the driver is the one dropping all those artfully foreshadowed details about the hunting club. You now know the date, perhaps the decade, too; the socioeconomic status of this hunting club; and perhaps also something about the moral character of its members. These insinuations of sex don’t disturb you, you’re no prude, though it’s not exactly what you’re looking for from a mystery; in fact, you’re hoping this is not one of those books where the author embroiders or obscures the story with sex or violence or gimmickry. The real writers, the ones you trust and return to again and again, have no need of such cheap deceits.

The police cruiser continues out of sight, and both men relax. They switch on the radio, which is broadcasting an ominous weather report, and their talk turns to matters that need not concern us here: old friends, politics, film, music . . . You sense they knew each other quite well, long ago, but haven’t talked much in recent years, and you wonder why, now, they have become reacquainted. You sense that this, too, might be part of the mystery.

But you are also pondering that earlier word case: is our protagonist, then, a private detective? You feel the book settle into the comfortable formula of its genre. Of course there is a detective, there must be a detective. Very well, then. You can perceive the contours of the plot ahead, anticipate its false clues and blind alleys, the ways in which this writer will try to conceal the truth in plain sight, like a purloined letter on a mantelpiece; you just hope that the rules of the form are followed, because a mystery that cheats is the worst kind of fraud.

But we’ll return to those rules later; for now the car’s wheels are crunching on gravel as it turns off the main highway and onto the unpaved road that must lead to the hunting club and, you anticipate, to death . . . Orange no trespassing signs are nailed to trees along the road, each emblazoned with the name of the club—West Heart—and its insignia: a bear’s head with two rifles crossed behind it, resembling, you can’t help but think, a skull and crossbones.

Reviews

“Potent. . . . McDorman's knowledge is abundant, as is his cleverness.”
Sarah Weinman, The New York Times Book Review

“Fun, clever, and innovative. A remarkable novel by a major talent, who has created a crime novel that feels entirely unique.”
Stuart Turton, international best-selling author of The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

"West Heart Kill is a true unicorn: a thoroughly original suspense novel that hops across elements of the genre—spot-on historical fiction and a diabolical locked-room mystery interspersed with a fascinating primer on the history of the form—while always being tremendous fun to read."
—Chris Pavone, New York Times best-selling author of Two Nights in Lisbon

“A crime novel that unpicks traditional storytelling… engrossing, surprising, clever, genre-bending.”
New York Times best-selling author Val McDermid

“A brain-teaser and a crowd-pleaser. I loved it.”
Benjamin Stevenson, author of Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone

 “Phenomenal…totally unique . . . a treat for every murder mystery fan.”
Janice Hallett, author of The Appeal

“McDorman simultaneously revels in and comments on the multi-faceted plot as the narrator directly addresses the reader with the assumption that she is equally knowledgeable and ardent about mysteries, decanting intriguing insights into the genre and its luminaries . . . McDorman is funny, canny, and nimble in this clever, unusual, and enormously entertaining mix of criticism and suspense, this mystery propelled by witty banter, hidden trauma, messy affairs, and vicious schemes.”
Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Entertaining.”
—Kirkus Reviews


West Heart Kill is definitely ambitious and absolutely entertaining…. McDorman does an excellent job of peeling the onion-like layers of his detective tale, carefully doling out surprises as the pages turn…. Sure to spawn exceptionally lively book club debates.”
—BookPage
 
"A delightful spin on the form." 
—CrimeReads

“Irresistible..... West Heart Kill is about both the rules and the breaking of the rules, the conventions of the murder mystery and their subversion.... A complete original – and a total delight.”
—BookTrib

“This is no run of the mill whodunnit — the writing swiftly causes readers to sit up and take notice, and pay attention…. Both honoring the classic crime genre and turning it on its head, this is a talented unique read.” 
—Belfast Telegraph            

Author

© Beowulf Sheehan
DANN McDORMAN is an Emmy-nominated TV news producer, who has also worked as a newspaper reporter, book reviewer, and cabinet maker. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. View titles by Dann McDorman

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