Elementary, My Dear Watkins by Mindy Starns Clark

Review by Chris Redmond

I am sorry to say that there is nothing Sherlockian about this book except the title, and it would take the most dedicated of completists to include it on the already crowded Sherlockian shelves for the sake of those four words. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant read, in a genre I don't very often bump into.

Elementary, My Dear Watkins appears to be the third in a series of “Smart Chick Mysteries” by Mindy Starns Clark, published by Harvest House Publishers. This book would probably not have made it out the door of a major commercial firm, but Harvest House is a four-decade-old “Christian publisher” based in Eugene, Oregon, which produces a modest (by some standards) 150 new books a year and presumably reaches an interested audience through specialized channels. If this book is any evidence, Harvest House has a very high quality of editing (I don't think I spotted a single grammatical or punctuation error in the book) and technical production. As for Clark's authorial abilities, it would be fair to say that they are as good as what turns up in most contemporary mainstream mysteries.

The central character is a newspaper columnist from a very wealthy family — no gritty realism here, but lots of limousines and gardeners, as “mystery” shades into the romance genre. She gets caught up in an intrigue over control of shares in the family company, a fair amount of attempted murder ensues (though no actual murder), she creates confusion and misunderstanding with her boyfriend (somewhere in Europe on an internship as a photographer), a subplot comes along with oversimplified insights into the process of developing new pharmaceuticals, and eventually more or less everybody lives happily ever after. It's easy reading.

From time to time, heroine Jo and boyfriend Danny are spotted giving a moment's thought to God and their Christian faith. Some fiction aimed at a self-identified “Christian” audience overdoes that aspect of the characters' lives — anybody read The Case of the Invisible Thief and its cringeworthy sequels by Thomas Brace Haughey? — but Clark keeps it modest and entirely plausible, even for readers (like me) from the liberal wing of Christianity. “Elementary, my dear Watkins,” Jo says to Danny on the last page. “ It was God’s plan.” Nice.