Caught Dead – A Review

Sometimes congregational life can be murder. Author Jayne Self’s debut novel, Caught Dead, was shortlisted in the 2009 Best New Author contest sponsored by The Word Guild. The book was published as a weekly online serial by The Presbyterian Record.

Between pet disasters, congregational politics, nosy neighbours, and parenting his sometimes lucid father, Dean has more than enough to deal with when his childhood friend is killed. Paige, the victim’s young, attractive and single sister, drags Dean into the heart of an investigation many people would rather leave closed. Was Justin murdered? If so—by who? I’m not telling.

Caught Dead is a sweet whodunit you could give your mom or pastor’s wife without hesitation. I found Dean Constable to be a well-rounded character with depth and genuine appeal, but other prominent characters came off as rather one-dimensional. I found the story rather predictable overall, but Self delivered a few well-timed surprises to keep me reading.

If you’re looking for a safe, entertaining read, then I definitely recommend Caught Dead; but for those whose tastes wander closer to the thriller or suspense genres such as those delivered by the likes of Ted Dekker, Terri Blackstock or Brandilynn Collins, Caught Dead might not hold your interest.

I had a chance to interview author Jayne Self, and chat about Caught Dead.

LW: Where did you get the idea for Dean Constable?
JS: I got the idea for Dean Constable while sitting on my friend’s veranda, staring at the tomb stones in the cemetery across the street from her Nova Scotian house. I was trying to find a protagonist who embodied the things I know best—church life and being adopted—but someone who could still legitimately solve crimes, hence Dean’s past as a homicide detective. My husband is a Presbyterian minister and my husband’s cousin, is a police officer with investigative and undercover experience.

LW: Will we see more of Dean in the future?
JS: A second Dean Constable Mystery, Hit ’n Miss, is in the finals revision stage and I have plans for other Dean Constable mysteries. I don’t know at this point.

LW: Caught Dead was published as an online serial. Would you do that again?
JS: I would do it again, yes. It’s a new and novel (excuse the pun) way for me, a previously unpublished author, to get my writing to an audience. When The Presbyterian Record expressed interest in “experimenting” with the online serial format I was thrilled to be their guinea pig.

It was fun. I connected with readers from Scotland to India and USA, though I suspect most were Canadian. I think people found waiting for the weekly chapters dragged a bit. It was sometimes hard for readers to keep track of details. I look forward to the day Caught Dead will be available in paper.

LW: I loved the video trailer you made for Caught Dead. How long did you spend on the video, and in hindsight was the process worth it for you? What were your goals in producing that video?
JS: Actually, Lisa, you inspired the video when you commented on Ted Dekker’s website. After watching his, and investigating those by a few other authors, I decided to give it a try. So I wrote a brief script, my son video-taped and created the end product. My goal? I was trying to take that next step in self-promotion that everyone talks about. I’m not sure it has significantly impacted my career, but personally I love it and still chuckle whenever I watch it. At this point in my life I think it honestly reflects me.

LW: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Caught Dead?
JS: Caught Dead is about belonging. It’s the struggle Dean and I, and I think most people, have in common. So I hope that through sharing Dean’s experiences people will come to understand that belonging isn’t about who you’re related to or where you and your family live, it’s about who you are in Jesus. And that is something that develops and grows and changes each day we spend with Him.

LW: Why a mystery? Caught Dead could easily have worked as a high-octane thriller or gritty suspense novel.
JS: That was one of the problems I had marketing the manuscript. With slight modifications Caught Dead could have been slotted into a number of different genres. Caught Dead is a mystery because that’s what I enjoy reading and because, knowing how much time I would spend with my characters and plots, it was where I felt most comfortable. High octane thrillers and gritty suspense novels make a great read, but I’m not sure I’m ready to live in that mental space for the months/years it would take to see a book birthed.

LW: What part of Caught Dead was the hardest for you to write?
JS: I found the faith element hardest to write. Trying to find the authentic voice for Dean’s questions and God’s responses without becoming schmaltzy/preachy. I hope I have achieved that.

Caught Dead will be available online until December 31.