Book Review: Coded for Murder by Dianne Smithwick-Braden

I’m not gonna lie, stories like Gone Girl and the endless slew of Lifetime Mysteries copycats have not endeared me to the mystery-thriller genre. I’ve always been a bit of a rebel at heart. If something becomes annoyingly popular I reject it with closet passion. That’s not to say I’m above changing my opinion. As irrational as it may seem to reject a whole genre based on a handful of examples, you can’t argue against art. And the same can be said for every genre with its familiar tropes and ‘isms. Thus, I came into Coded for Murder with an open mind because I was ready to have my opinion changed. 

Dianne Smithwick-Braden writes unlike anyone I’ve read. She relies on dialogue and avoids almost any prose to tell her stories. This is not usually my cup of tea, but I found her style worked amazingly well for her genre. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Coded for Murder until midway through. Some books are like that, drawing you closer and closer until releasing snippets of brilliance. I won’t give away any more spoilers than what Smithwick-Braden teases in her synopsis. Suffice to say, this is a story you need to read for yourself. If you are a fan of mystery and amateur sleuth stories, buckle your seatbelt and get ready to fall down the roller coaster. Oh, and please remember to enter the big giveaway shared below 😉 First, though, a little about the book.



Genre: Murder Mystery / Amateur Sleuth

Publisher: DSB Mysteries

Publication Date: September 26, 2019

Number of Pages: 358 pages

Scroll down for Giveaway!


Jade O’Neal is a senior at West Texas A & M University in Canyon, Texas. She’s on track to graduate with highest honors and a degree in history until she is accused of murder.

She juggles her busy school and work schedule around taking care of an overgrown Rottweiler and being questioned by police until she finds a series of clues hidden in puzzle form.

Time is against her as she follows the clues to find the true identity of the murderer while avoiding arrest and her own murder.


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4 of 5 Stars

Coded for Murder is a master-class in classic slow-burn. From the outset, we know who the bad guys are and have a pretty good feeling for the good guys. Or do we? Our story opens with the big bad’s discussing the possibility they’ll be discovered after getting away with a twenty-year-old murder. The author gives the impression they have gotten away with far worse since then. Enter main characters Jade O’Neal and Uncle Erik, family to the guy our big-bads knocked off years ago. Uncle Erik is on the verge of a break-through and desperate to keep his niece, and the rest of their surviving family, safe. In a time when it’s easier to let it go rather than do the right thing, Erik and Jade choose to stand for justice…and revenge.

Coded for Murder is dialogue-heavy with very little prose, forcing the reader to rely on the characters to tell the story. Long stretches are spent with regular conversations on what to eat for dinner, where to go for the next date, walking the dog, etc. While this may seem tedious, don’t be fooled. Clues to the overall puzzle are peppered throughout, allowing you to form conclusions long before the main cast. Smithwick-Braden’s style is unique from most others I’ve recently read, but she uses her dialogue to great effect. My only real complaint was the sometimes abrupt shift between character perspectives. In place of scene breaks, Smithwick-Braden uses times and dates to show the passing of one part of the story to the next. I like this method, because it gives a sense of impending doom, so the reader is racing against the clock alongside Erik and Jade. On that note, the first half of the book is bogged down by unnecessary scenes. This could easily be revised to tighten and strengthen the narrative. 

For the most part, the cast of Coded for Murder is purposely average, even boring people. I found Jade to be the least interesting character until she’s dragged into the very conspiracy Uncle Erik’s been trying to protect her from all her life. Before she is tested, Jade is just another college girl trying to juggle school, work, and her love life. She loves history, and the guy who’s into her seems a little overly eager, a sure sign of trouble in any thriller. Jade doesn’t seem to notice much around her, with her mind always on the next task. But after the last reliable person in her life is taken from her, Jade’s character begins to shine. She may be a little brilliant, in fact, and it’s both interesting and engaging to watch Jade come into her own.

Over the course of the story, Jade O’Neal grows into someone the reader can root for because she is just like us: average, maybe a little boring, until life throws a curveball we couldn’t fathom facing. Grounded in realism with believable stakes, Coded for Murder will spin you into a sensational web of hidden truths and lies. 

**I was provided with a copy of Coded for Murder by the publisher and this is my voluntary and honest review.**


Dianne Smithwick-Braden is a native Texan raised on the family farm near Vernon, Texas. She seasons her mysteries with a little romance, a dash of adventure, and a touch of humor. She currently resides in Amarillo, Texas with her husband, Richard.




GRAND PRIZE: Signed copy of Coded for Murder, hot chocolate mix, mug, crossword puzzle book, mini-notepads, M&Ms, clip-on book light
TWO WINNERS: Signed copies of Coded for Murder

February 25-March 6, 2020

(US Addresses Only)





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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Coded for Murder by Dianne Smithwick-Braden

Add yours

  1. Thank you for your review. I am intrigued by the cover, its cool. I like a book that doesn’t give away the plot right away.


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