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JD Rutherford
The Eighth Master

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

As waves of moist air from the Pacific ocean press inland over California’s coastal range, the climate becomes ideally suited for growing wine grapes. It is hot in the summer, foggy and cool in the winter, and beautiful year-round. An ever changing veil of grape leaves that slowly turn from green to golden yellow with the coming of the harvest cover the valleys and their flanks. Pine trees and oaks blanket the upper reaches of the low mountains that cradle world renowned merlots, chardonnays, and zinfandels. It is in this setting that David Johnnson has decided to put down roots, and use a significant portion of his vast wealth to recreate a noted French architectural landmark in the heart of California’s wine country as a home for his burgeoning art collection. When an obstacle presents itself that must be removed, he finds an architect to help get back on track. Neither man can know the ways in which their lives will be changed because of the construction of Chateau Mont-Merat. Someone is going to die and it won’t be an accident.
Rutherford’s enticing mystery revolves around an unlucky architect and an infamous art piece that leads to a gruesome murder. Neil is a local architect struggling to pay his bills when he receives the commission of a lifetime: building a 17th-century style French chateau for David Johnsson, a Wall-Street businessman with a legendary fortune. But when Detective Sean Andrews finds Johnsson’s body in the basement of the unfinished chateau, Neil becomes a suspect. Rutherford’s plot turns on poisonings, cryptocurrencies, threatening messages, and a fortune invested in art. As betrayals get exposed, one stolen artwork in particular will reveal who precisely Johnsson was–and who murdered him.

Rutherford gives each character a colorful past and loyalties that could make anyone the culprit, building The Eighth Master into an engrossing whodunit that will keep readers guessing. This clever mystery’s occasional focus on architecture might hinder some readers’ interest, though, especially Neil’s occasional lectures. Despite Rutherford’s love of the subject, the architectural detail that slows down the first 50 pages ultimately doesn’t factor much into the investigation, as the mystery hinges on what’s inside the chateau rather than the chateau itself.

Nevertheless, Rutherford has crafted a lengthy but captivating mystery that checks off all the boxes for the genre, offering a relentless investigation and exciting twists and turns. Like a boulder rolling down the hill faster and faster, the storytelling becomes more urgent and exciting as the investigation continues. The revelations are both surprising and fulfilling, as Rutherford demonstrates mastery of the genre with clues that play fair, a couple of legitimate shocks, and a satisfying ending that clears up all the essential questions. Murder mystery fans, especially the architectural enthusiasts and art lovers among them, will enjoy how The Eighth Master touches on all these subjects to expose the excesses of humanity’s Icarus-like greed.

Takeaway: This memorable whodunit, fascinated with art and architecture, will dazzle fans of the genre.

Great for fans of: Donna Leon’s Transient Desires, Clare Chase’s Mystery on Hidden Lane.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: A