From My Bookshelf to Yours: The sun is shining in a New Mexico author’s mystery book

Maureen Cooke

Darynda Jones’ “A Bad Day for Sunshine” is a fun, yet ultimately frustrating, book to read, and one I cannot wholeheartedly recommend.

First, the fun: Jones is a New Mexico author, and she places “A Bad Day for Sunshine” in the fictional town of Del Sol, in the mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The details of Del Sol — its size, location, quirky architecture and quaint coffee shop — resemble Madrid.

As I read the book, I used Madrid as a focal point, and I enjoyed that. I also appreciated Jones’ ability to bring the peculiarities of New Mexico to life.

Jones relies on epigraphs from the Del Sol police blotter to illustrate the town’s peculiarities and, by extension, those of New Mexico. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 19, Jones writes: “Deputy Salazar responded to a report of a woman stopping at mailboxes and going through residents’ mail. Upon further investigation, it was the mail carrier. — Del Sol Police Blotter.”

Such details such made me laugh out loud. Jones pokes fun at her characters and the town, without disparagement, and I loved that.

Now, the frustration: “A Bad Day for Sunshine,” according to the author’s website, will be the first in a series featuring Sunshine Vicram and supporting characters.

Sunshine is a 30-something woman returning to her hometown of Del Sol, having been elected sheriff after her parents nominated her as a candidate. Sunshine speculates as to how she could have won when she hadn’t known she was running.

I wanted Jones to tell us how that happened. She never does.

For me, the plot point is unnecessary and should never have been included if it wasn’t going to be resolved.

Sunshine returns to Del Sol with her 15-year-old daughter, Aurora Dawn, nicknamed Auri, who tried to kill herself as a 7-year-old. That story in itself would have made a novel. However, that isn’t the main story, which is the kidnapping of Sybil St. Aubin.

Finding Sybil would also be enough for a novel, but that isn’t what Jones does. Instead, she includes Sybil’s writing of her own kidnapping from the time she was a 7-year-old, which could also have been a novel.

How did Sybil know she’d be kidnapped? Interesting question, which is never answered.

Additionally, Sunshine was abducted as a teenager, and Jones devotes a large portion of the book to the uncovering of details related to that abduction. A third of the way into the story, the reader is expected to keep track of all that information, along with a prized rooster that may or may not have been stolen, an escaped fugitive and a detective that nobody seems to know.

Plus, there are scenes with more than two characters talking, and the dialogue isn’t tagged, which was confusing. A scene where Sunshine and her daughter are having nearly identical, simultaneous experiences was even more problematic.

Too many subplots, too few dialogue tags, combined with Jones’ failure to resolve who abducted Sunshine, make it difficult to recommend “A Bad Day for Sunshine.”

(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. Currently, she’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)

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