Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review of Margin of Error by Edna Buchanan (Hyperion, 1997)

Britt Montero is the hardnosed, police beat reporter for the Miami News.  What she’d like to be doing is getting the scoop on the various crimes happening in the city.  Her bosses though have teamed her up with Lance Westfell, a Hollywood heartthrob on location in the city to film a new movie, Margin of Error, in which he plays a journalist.  Britt’s job is to give him a sense of what being a reporter is all about.  She’s hoping that he’ll get the gist in a day as she’s up to her eyes with various cases, including a young security guard shot dead at his place of work, a young mother who’s baby seemingly died of starvation, and a pervert with a foot fetish.  Lance, however, believes in doing reasonably thorough research and plans to tag along for a while.  He has problems of his own, including a stalker, a messy separation from a diva, and a career that is starting to wane, plus the movie he’s working on is being plagued by mishaps.  Soon the mishaps become murder and Britt and Lance are drawn together as they try to stay alive and workout who is responsible and why.

Margin of Error is a kind of tart noir, with its sassy, smart, streetwise reporter pitching her wits against cops, criminals and anyone else that gets in the way of a good story, with the obligatory romantic subplot.  It’s nicely written in an engaging style, with the story zipping along.  Britt Montero is well portrayed as the committed reporter with a messy personal life, and Lance Westfell is a ringer for Matthew McConaughey, being all charm, wit, good looks and slightly vulnerable.  The story felt a little cliched, both in terms of the general arc and the romance, but was blended with a handful of interesting, intertwined subplots, and was generally entertaining.  However, as it progressed and Buchanan ratcheted up the intrigue and tension it became less believable and the reveal just didn’t ring true at all and firmly bumped me out a story.  That was a shame as it had been working quite well up to the last third.  Overall, a relatively light, fun read that didn’t quite strike all the right notes.

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