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A Winsome Murder

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  185 ratings  ·  53 reviews
A grisly murder in a pastoral Wisconsin town, Winsome Bay, proves to be only the opening act in a twisting, darkening series of gruesome deaths. Acclaimed already for his young adult fiction, actor/director/playwright James DeVita now debuts an addictive, adult thriller that takes us from Chicago’s underbelly to the Wisconsin woods.
            In this fast-paced novel we
Hardcover, 196 pages
Published June 22nd 2015 by University of Wisconsin Press (first published June 1st 2015)
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3.52  · 
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 ·  185 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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Jun 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, mystery
You'd think with a title like this and a setting in a town named Winsome, this might be a cozy mystery, but really, it's more of an anti-cozy. No darling, quirky characters (well Mangan is quirky, but not in a darling way) and very little humor; instead, grief, suffering and brutality abound (which makes sense in a book about murder, but it still hit me pretty hard).
I liked the detective and his partner a lot. I would read more mysteries with that team. I don't know if he plans to write more or
Jun 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A "winsome" murder? How is that possible, I wondered?

I revisited the definition of winsome after seeing the title of James DeVita's newest book. "Charming, sweetly attractive" the dictionary advised.
The title's mystery was solved within a few pages of "A Winsome Murder," when I discovered the setting was Winsome Bay, Wisconsin. It's a rather clever pun by the author.

Numerous interesting characters are introduced within the first several pages, and one wonders how all these seemingly different li
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Well, I'm impressed. This was a surprise...a short, brutal, bloody, and page turning, maddeningly suspenseful crime story. No flashy, handsome heroes, no compellingly evil villains...just a gritty cop story, and a frantic race to stop the madness and deaths. And a lot of short, tragic lives ended by horrible violence meted out in a perfectly efficient manner by a murderer with the mind as broken as it was methodical.
As a fan of Jim DeVita the actor, who is quite sure that he is a flawless performer, I have angst in expressing my opinion of this book. I fear that my expectations were unrealistic, I wanted his writing prowess to match that of his stage presence in his debut adult fiction work.

The story felt formulaic, some of it felt like it pandered to a Madison wi tendency to be politically correct. It's a quick read, his literary style is simplistic With a "trade book" feel. I've never seen him play a char
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mystery detective stories are not my favorite kind of read but I found this book compelling to read.
The style of not having chapters or breaks between change of scenes made it hard to put the book down as I needed to decide where to leave the story.
I enjoyed the literature quotes that kept on running to the head of the detective.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This story moved along quickly, but it was full of murders! Although written well, the plot is a bit dark and gruesome.
Mar 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I have to admit that I read this book because Mr. DeVita is one of my favorite actors at American Players Theatre. And the Shakespeare quotes didn't disappoint.
I should have expected some murder by the title of the book, but there was a bit more than I expected.
I always enjoy reading books that are set in Wisconsin.
More, please!
Dec 23, 2015 rated it liked it
A Winsome Murder is a crime novel that perhaps only the actor and author Jim DeVita could write. DeVita has been a member of the American Players Theater core company for over two decades, and in 2015 Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal wrote, “America has no finer classical actor than Jim DeVita,” high praise indeed. DeVita has authored several previous books and a number of plays. The APT is located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, in the rural hills west of Madison, and it is in such a small ...more
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-group
Read this for my book group. Have to say that I would not have picked this up if not for my book group. The author will be speaking at our library as part of our annual Book Festival this year, which is why it was picked. I was fairly unimpressed. I read a lot of mystery/detective novels and this one just didn't do it for me. It is a very short book (under 200 pages) and I just don't think the characters were fleshed out properly. The author is a Shakespeare aficionado, so the main detective had ...more
Jul 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I had to read this after seeing the author's name- James DeVita has been one of my favorite actors to see on stage at American Players Theater, a professional classical repertory theater hidden in the driftless area of northwest Wisconsin. His acting is almost flawless so I have to say I was a bit apprehensive about reading A Winsome Murder. I was rewarded by a lovely day on the porch absorbed in his characters and in his descriptions of the two main settings: Northwest WI and Chicago. The bonus ...more
Apr 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very good detective story with a well thought out plot.

I got this book after having seen the author perform a 1-man stage performance (an interpretation of Shakespeare) at American Players Theater last fall. While some of his acting bothered me..the fact that he sounded just like Robin Williams..I was impressed overall with his stamina. 3 hours on stage with a continuous monologue. Exhausting would be an understatement. In any event, after reading in his bio that he has written books, I knew I
Jennifer Rupp
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
DeVita delivers "a round unvarnish'd tale" in A Winsome Murder

Relentlessly suspenseful from beginning to end, A Winsome Murder delivers a gruesome tale of revenge. James DeVita, playwright, novelist, and an outstanding classical actor, has hit his stride with his most recent foray into the murder mystery genre with smart, multidimensional characters, pace and exquisite detail. In James Mangan, a Chicago-based detective, DeVita has created a hero for the contemporary reader. Although haunted by p
Nov 04, 2015 rated it liked it
There was the germ of a good story here, but it didn't quite blossom. I really wanted to like this more than I did, because the author is local and I saw him give a great talk about the book and writing. But, this was inconsistent - both the characters and the story. The quoting of Shakespeare and Melville worked well towards the end, but felt really contrived and messed up the pacing in the early parts of the book. I suspect the quick jumps between narrators without chapter breaks was intended ...more
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I bought this book when the author gave a presentation at our local public library. He is a well-known playwright, children's author and actor at the American Players' Theater in Spring Green, Wisconsin. This is his first adult novel. Although I am not a crime fiction aficionado, I really enjoyed this book. I thought the characters were very interesting. The main detective channels quotes from Shakespeare (and Melville) in his mind to help focus his thinking during the solving of a crime. It is ...more
Kate Cronin
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Yep, that James DeVita (if you live in Madison, WI he is a local theater celebrity). His first work for adults, starts with a gruesome murder in small town Wisconsin, the fictional "Winsome Bay". His detective, James Mangan, out of Chicago - and there is a tie-in to Chicago - hears snippets of Shakespeare and Melville as he's working on the case - very fun! DeVita certainly racks up the body count in this mystery, and the ending is better than I was expecting. A very easy and engaging read - I r ...more
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book! This is one I would buy as a gift and say "you must read this". From the first paragraph the reader is drawn in and cannot stop reading. Alternating between different voices, the description and dialogue of Southern Wisconsin is amazing. One exception--the reference to large farm families seemed a bit dated; but I'll assume DeVita knows more than I do. Also, the final part of the book has a gun fight that read just a bit long for my preference. But still, wow, what a book. I thou ...more
Nov 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fast paced murder mystery set in Wisconsin and Illinois. A young woman is brutally murdered and her body is dumped just outside her home town of Winsome Wisconsin, though she has not lived at home for a few years. An editor of a Chicago literary magazine receives a severed hand in the mail, and at first Detective Mangan believes it belongs to the woman found in Wisconsin, but it doesn't and the body count starts to rise and as Detective Mangan has Shakespearean verses dancing through his head ...more
Oct 07, 2016 rated it liked it
This was a decent book. The "hook" was that the lead detective in the story recalled certain Shakespeare quotes as he investigated murders, which then helped him solve the crimes. I didn't pay much attention to these, and felt the book would have been just as interesting without the Shakespeare references. Was dismayed that the author didn't know the difference between hay and straw; there also seemed to be some procedural flaws when it came to the criminal investigations. Suspense was kept up u ...more
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent writing! High body count and a fair amount of violent descriptions. Recommended if you like reading about the darker side of small-town Wisconsin, and are okay with the tone/violence in things like Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and True Detective (although A Winsome Murder isn't as "twisted" as those examples). Great characters and sense of place. Very timely, with human trafficking, meth, etc tucked into a tightly wound (serial) murder mystery. Just don't get too attached to any of the ma ...more
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Having been entertained by DeVita's acting carrier for 18+ years at APT, I just had to read his latest book. Naturally he found a cleaver way to weave Shakespeare quotes (obviously near and dear to his heart) in the mind of the detective faced with some grisly murders he needs to find closure on in Wisconsin. DeVita can write a good mystery, but I prefer his acting on the stage! Too gruesome in Winsome!
Jun 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: library
That was a suspenseful murder mystery with an interesting setting. It was a quick read that I enjoyed. But...

Being a Wisconsinite, I felt that the characterization of many of the Wisconsin characters was too country-bumpkinish. And the officers from Chicago felt a little like stereotypes. In fact, many of the minor characters seemed more nuanced than the main ones.

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it. And that's okay. Maybe his next book will be improved.
A fast-paced mystery. Not being a Shakespeare scholar, I was a bit nervous about reading a book in which the detective gets inspiration from the Shakespeare heard in his head. I needn't have worried, the thoughts/musing/inspirations are unintimidating and flow well with the story. There is an appendix at the end of the book detailing the source of each of the 179 Shakespeare (and Melville) lines.

This was a good book to read on a rainy Memorial Day weekend in Wisconsin.
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shifting viewpoints add interest to this serial killer mystery, not really my favorite. Chicago detective Mangan, who hears echoes of literature in his head, becomes involved when a young woman's battered body is found near her Wisconsin home town. The two other murders that follow make him wonder if the Russian mob or the human traffickers are involved. Even without Shakespeare's help, I saw the real connection quite a bit earlier than he did. Bloody, and not really very pleasant.
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-clubs
Very engaging! A page turner. Some parts that were unexpectedly gruesome, but I suppose what DID I expect from a murder mystery. I appreciated how high the stakes were in the fact that no one was safe.
Looking forward to talking about the book - there is more that I would like to write, but don't want to spoil anything...
Nov 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
A bit gruesome with all the murdered young women. It was not all that intriguing as a mystery, but was an easy, quick read. The chief detective character was not lovable at all - a wrenched being! The book was sprinkled throughout with almost non-relevant Shakespeare quotes. To raise its literary value, no doubt. It failed!
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, well crafted crime story. I admit that the shifting around of character perspective threw me off for a bit in the beginning, but I came to really like it and appreciated how it moved the story. By the time I was 1/3 of the way in, I just couldn't stop reading it. I'd love it if there's another book featuring the police officer in this one - he's an extremely interesting character.
Judy at NewEnglandGardenAndThread
I picked this up from a 'new mystery' shelf. The first few pages, I wasn't sure. But, I kept reading, and it was a really good read. The main character, Mangan, is like a lot of us - he has a few flaws he needs to work on but he keeps trying. I liked him a lot and his cast of supporting characters. I would certainly read another book in a series.
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I was surprised the DeVita would write this kind of novel. Kiss of blood and guys. It was, of course, pretty well written. But, I hope he heads in ad different direction or at least leaves the killing of young woman and human trafficking out of the next one. Maybe a murder at APT.
Mary Ellen
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Any mystery gets points from me for the absence of a beautiful detective who chases down a murderer while wearing 5-inch heels. This novel gets a lot of points for that, and other features I never knew I wanted to see in a mystery. This was a page-turner the like of which I haven't seen for quite a while. I hope detective Madagan appears again.
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really like it, it was better than I was expecting. This is not some quirky cozy, actor's side project; this is a solid murder mystery with developed characters and a good bit of gore! Devita could easily take the Chicago cops forward and make a series out of them. Nicely done.
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James DeVita, a native of Long Island, NY, is an author and playwright. Along with his two novels, The Silenced and Blue, he has also written more than sixteen plays and adaptations of classics for young audiences. He is the resident playwright for First Stage Theater for Youth. His plays have been awarded the Distinguished Play Award by the American Alliance of Theater and Education; the Intellec ...more