The mystery in Death Loves a Messy Desk is pretty good. An office manager hires Charlotte Adams to organize the horrifically messy (think old food and rodent droppings) desk of a co-worker, Barb. Except that on her way to the office, she’s almost run off the road. And when she arrives, she gets sucked into office politics that are even messier than Barb’s desk. Then Barb goes missing, one of the office workers is murdered, and somehow, Charlotte is right smack in the middle of it all.
The big reveal took me completely by surprise — I didn’t suspect that person at all, and I like how the reveal of their identity also peeled back some layers into their true personality. There were also some surprising reveals throughout the story, especially once Charlotte digs deeper into Barb’s background, and I found that the minor twists kept the story engaging.
That being said, as an intro to a series, Messy Desk left me somewhat underwhelmed. Charlotte was a pretty good series lead. I think her job in organizing people’s spaces sounds awesome. I also liked the subplot about training her dogs to be therapy dogs, and I’m only disappointed that plot thread was dropped pretty quickly. But Charlotte also came off as whiny and needy with her friends, which at times turned irritating. For example, she kept interrupting her best friend Margaret’s sexytimes, often to insult Margaret’s choice of lover, or to complain about her friend Jack never being around anymore. At one point, Margaret sets a very understandable boundary and demands that since she’s busy, she can only talk to Charlotte about matters that are actually urgent. In response, Charlotte insists on talking about Jack, and because Margaret is such a good friend, she takes a break from her night with her lover to give Charlotte advice.
Worse was Charlotte’s obsession over why Jack is no longer ever around. I figure there’ll likely be a romance brewing between them at some point in the series, but within this novel at least, her frustration about him not spending time with her just comes off as a clingy / jealous / possessive girlfriend. It becomes even more frustrating because it’s unclear (at least to me as a series newbie) what their relationship actually is, and it’s only near the end where I learn he’s only her landlord and friend who once had a crush on her. At one point, Jack’s actual girlfriend answers his phone and says he’s in the meeting, and Charlotte pretends to have an emergency just to get him to talk to her. The story paints the girlfriend as a villain — all gorgeous and mean girl — and Jack later begs Charlotte for forgiveness for ignoring her. But honestly, it mostly just seemed like Jack had a life outside of Charlotte, and Charlotte wasn’t willing to accept that.
I also really disliked the character of Nick, the detective who investigates the crime. Bumbling detectives are a pretty standard trope in cozy mysteries — which makes sense, as it paves the way for the amateur series lead to solve the mystery themselves — but Nick is so incompetent that it’s a wonder he’s lasted at his job for so long. He acts completely lost during the investigation, asks obvious questions, and repeats questions that have already been answered. Even when Charlotte practically guides him through the answers, he still can’t figure out what happened. I can imagine his character being written as comic relief, but it just came off annoying after a while.
Overall, the mystery wasn’t bad, but the series didn’t quite hook me.
Thank you to Beyond the Page Publishing for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.