Review of The Man With a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes (1981) (Richard Jury Series)

 Bottom line: A pleasant and intriguing read with a few murders thrown in for good measure.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

At the Man with a Load of Mischief, they found the dead body stuck in a keg of beer. At the Jack and Hammer, another body was stuck out on the beam of the pub’s sign, replacing the mechanical man who kept the time. Two pubs. Two murders. One Scotland Yard inspector called in to help. Detective Chief Inspector Richard Jury arrives in Long Piddleton and finds everyone in the postcard village looking outside of town for the killer. Except for one Melrose Plant. A keen observer of human nature, he points Jury in the right direction: into the darkest parts of his neighbors’ hearts…

Review:

Just a few weeks ago I was complaining about not being able to find new-to-me cozy mystery series to get lost in. Well, of course the next day I picked up an older book that I had gotten last year at my neighborhood’s community book swap, and found just that. The Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes has about two dozen books, and I’m looking forward to working my way through them. Some may quibble with my including this as a cozy, since the lead character works for the police, but the setting, atmosphere, and lack of CSI type talk make me feel ok about sticking this in with the cozies.

I had a few minor complaints, as I usually do, the biggest one being that I didn’t feel like the partnership between Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, who are being established as the crime fighting duo who go on to work together throughout the series, was explained or explored very well. The men seemed almost to be the same person. I would have like to see more differentiation, and a more solid foundation of their relationship established.

That being said, that was my main complaint. It met all my other criteria for a good cozy mystery, and the characters were well drawn and intriguing enough that I’m hoping to learn more about them as the series progresses.

One thing I will say is that I found this to be a fairly light read – the best way I can explain this is to compare it to something like Louise Penny’s mystery series, which always leaves me a touch hesitant to get into the next book. Not because I am afraid the quality will be lacking, but because reading those books is an emotional investment. There are some deep tragedies and pain explored (not even necessarily related to the crime being investigated) that, frankly, I just don’t always have the energy to tackle. I can’t speak to the rest of thisseries, since I’ve only read the first (though I have the second waitlisted at the library), but The Man With a Load of Mischief was exactly what I was looking for when I started searching for new cozies a few weeks ago – an entertaining read that wasn’t too draining mentally.

PS – this was set around Christmastime in a small English village (though the Christmas parts are very minor), so it may be fun to earmark to read around then.

I know I’m late to the party since this was first published in 1981, so have any of you read the Richard Jury series? What did you think?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Why is it so hard to write a good cozy mystery?

Why is it so hard to write a good cozy mystery? I asked this first out of frustration – it seems that every new series I try is just not that good – and then out of genuine curiosity. Cozies are one of my favorite genres, and I feel like I’m running out of new authors to try. I recently read a trio of cozies: Just Desserts by Mary Daheim, Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney (both of which are the first in their respective series, and set in bed and breakfasts), and Deadly Valentine by Carolyn G. Hart. For all three of these, I kept getting pulled out of the story as I was constantly noticing things that could have been done better.

Deadly Valentine was probably technically the best of the bunch, but was so littered with references to other mysteries, detectives, and their authors that I kept getting distracted. I love mysteries (obviously) and it’s always fun to see books you love referenced in other books, but keep it down to a few per chapter, not a few per paragraph! In places it was almost unreadable. Also (mild spoiler alert) I found it hard to believe the sheer percentage of married couples who were cheating on each other, which I guess was necessary to provide possible motives for the suspect pool, but seriously, we are talking upwards of maybe 85% of the couples you are introduced to are cheaters.

Murder on the Rocks was maybe a little less well constructed than Deadly Valentine, but I enjoyed it the most of this bunch. It was just…pleasant, which a cozy by definition should be. The only thing I found to really annoy me (and this is by no means unique to this story or author) was the main character’s attraction to her neighbor has to be mentioned every time he comes up. We get it. She thinks he’s cute. I don’t need to hear about his striking green (or whatever colour they were) eyes every. single. time. Or hear about how well he fills out his jeans with every step he takes (or every move he maaaaaakes). If I were suspected of a brutal murder and was looking at the loss of my freedom and livelihood, I’m not going to be spending my time staring dreamily at my neighbour’s butt. That being said, I would probably read more in this series. It was interesting, and pleasant, and not terribly stressful.

Just Desserts I was very disappointed by. I’ve heard Mary Daheim recommended a number of times, and she has about a billion books out, so I was expecting great things. Not only did it suffer from the “we get it, she thinks he’s cute” syndrome mentioned above, but there were a number of other problems I had with it. First and foremost was the info dump in the first few pages. Character names, backstories, all are dumped immediately into our laps without context. I have a hard enough time remembering the names of people I know, much less fictional ones. If they’re all thrown at me in a few paragraphs, I’m just not going to be able to keep up, and then I spend the rest of the book trying to remember who was who’s sister, or cheating ex-boyfriend, or uncle’s roomate’s cousin’s dog sitter. I didn’t find the main character compelling or sympathetic, nor did I find the supporting characters to be so. In short, as I said, disappointing.

So why is it so hard to write a cozy? I think it has a lot to do with finding the right balance in many different dimensions.

  1. The right amount of suspense and violence: it’s a bit strange that we relax by reading about fictional people being murdered, but there it is. It should have enough tension to keep us hooked and want to know whodunnit, but not so much gore that we have trouble sleeping at night.
  2. Characters who are interesting and quirky without being caricatures.
  3. Enough characters to provide a reasonable suspect pool without overwhelming readers.
  4. A realistic reason why this amateur sleuth is a) investigating at all (instead of the police) and b) has the skill set or information base to do so.
  5. Providing enough clues so that the reader has all the information to solve the case while making it hard to do so. There is nothing more annoying than solving the case on page 30, and then watching the heroine flounder about for the next 300 pages.
  6. Love interest: this could be a list in and of itself, but the author has to create conflict or tension between them, create reasons for them to be thrown together, reasons why they’re not together, balance developing the romance with solving the mystery, etc.
  7. Follow what is essentially a very rigid plot structure while coming up with a unique twist to entertain readers. I think this is part of why so many cozies have a “quirk” to try and differentiate them from other series. A bed and breakfast setting, or a talking animal (I can’t quite bring myself to read those, but maybe I’m missing out), a friendly ghost who helps solve mysteries, etc.
  8. Provide an exciting ending where the heroine ends up in danger before unmasking the perpetrator while not making her do something really stupid and out of character (“Sure! This timid librarian is going to sneak into the mafia’s underground fortress in the middle of the night to try and get the last piece of evidence needed to convict.” or “Sure! I think you might have killed someone a few days ago, but I’d LOVE to meet for coffee by your abandoned coal mine! What’s that? Don’t tell anyone where I’m going? But of course not!”)

So that’s my list of why I think it’s hard to write a good cozy mystery. I’ll try to keep it in mind the next time I find myself frustrated with my reading material.

Do you read cozies? Who are you favorite authors?

Review of Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert (1992) (China Bayles Series)

Bottom line: Okay

Rating: Recommended if: you’re looking for a light mystery, or have a connection to the Texas Hill Country

Blurb:

China Bayles has it all – a prestigious Houston law practice, money, power – but it’s not enough. She’s smart, she’s tough, she’s confident, and she knows she wants something more out of life than the fast track offers. Something like the Thyme and Seasons herb shop in Pecan Springs, Texas. Realizing that her career is turning her into somebody she doesn’t like, China does what many people only dream of doing: She relocates to a small town to begin a new and, she hopes, a gentler, more fulfilling life.

But even in Pecan Springs, evil can occur among ordinary people living everyday lives. China soon learns that while she can move from the city, she can’t escape the world of moral choice. When China’s good friend, Jo Gilbert, apparently commits suicide, China is more than puzzled. Jo had been suffering from a terminal disease, but wasn’t the type to take her own life. And, to a lawyer like China, some revealing letters that Jo leaves behind shout blackmail and murder, not suicide.

But why would anybody want to kill a woman who will die soon anyway? And what about the scent of perfume in Jo’s house? When another mysterious death occurs, China is sure she’s dealing with homicide. Helped by her best friend, New-Ager Ruby Wilcox, and with support from lover Mike McQuaid, a former-cop-turned-professor, China follows a trail of greed and fear to discover some unsettling answers. Thyme of Death marks the memorable debut of one of the most original and appealing new female sleuths to come along in years. Readers will identify with China Bayles as she makes the kind of tough decisions that confront us all.

Review:

I was excited to read this, as it seemed like a neat setup – I love the Texas Hill Country, and the former-lawyer-turned-herb-shop-owner premise seemed intriguing. However, I had to really push myself through the first fifty or so pages before I started to get into it. I found the writing to be clunky and distracting. The characters were ok, and the plot was good, but the not-so-subtle themes and meticulous character descriptions kept pulling me out of the story. Surely there is a happy medium between not being told anything about what a character looks like and having to know, down to the shoes, exactly what every single person is wearing, even random once-off characters we’re never going to see again.

I did start enjoying it more once we got into the investigation parts of the story, and if I happened across the next in the series while at the library I’ll probably pick it up, but I won’t be rushing out to grab it. I felt mildly curious about the lead’s past, but I didn’t feel connected enough to her to need to know more about her. It is worth a read if you’re headed to the Texas Hill Country and are looking for a light, throw away read for an afternoon.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (1975) (Amelia Peabody #1)

Bottom line: A fun Victorian cozy set on the banks of the Nile

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Set in 1884, this is the first installment in what has become a beloved bestselling series. At thirty-two, strong-willed Amelia Peabody, a self-proclaimed spinster, decides to use her ample inheritance to indulge her passion, Egyptology. On her way to Egypt, Amelia encounters a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes. The two become fast friends and travel on together, encountering mysteries, missing mummies, and Radcliffe Emerson, a dashing and opinionated archaeologist who doesn’t need a woman’s help — or so he thinks.

Review:

Elizabeth Peters might be the author that I find most hit-or-miss. A few moves ago, someone at our local library had a thing for her writing and they had stocked maybe a dozen or more of her books. I read several, as they are mostly light mysteries with some romance thrown in. Longtime readers know by now that I love books that give a good sense of local ambience, especially if they’re set in exotic locations. This series is set in Egypt in the late 1800s. She has a couple of other series, and some standalone novels. Her strengths are ambience, archeology (the author had a Ph.D in Egyptology), and voice – although mystery authors seem bound by law to make their characters “quirky”, I often find hers genuinely amusing. I think some of her weaknesses are plot – the mystery part of the novel is often the weakest piece, and voice.

But wait! I just said voice was one of her strengths! This is why I find her to be so hit or miss. If she’s just focused on telling the story, I think that comes across and her characters are fun and charming and all the rest of it. When she’s making her points (she was a Feminist with a capital F), I find that the characters and story suffer – when I as a reader start rolling my eyes going, “I get it, women are equal to or greater than men, just get on with the book!” that pulls me out of my flow of reading and generally irritates me. To be fair, anything that pulls me out of the flow of reading is going to irritate me (you can ask my husband).

So some of her books are cozy mysteries at their best – light, fun, and interesting – and some of her books feel stilted, forced, and repetitive. Though I have read several in the Peabody series (by the way, if there are any series authors out there, please, please, PLEASE list the order of your books somewhere on the actual book! I hate having to dig through every novel on the shelf to try to arrange by publication date so I can find the first in the series. Even with a smart phone it’s not always easy to find quickly on the internet. Anyways, I digress…), I had never read this first one until a recent recommendation by a friend. It’s by far my favorite by Peters. If you’re interested in trying her writing, this one certainly gets my top recommendation.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of A Rumpole Christmas by John Mortimer (2009) (Rumpole series)

Bottom line: A fun holiday read with a little murder, theft and blackmail thrown in here and there.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Of the late Sir John Mortimer’s many beloved characters, it is widely agreed that Horace Rumpole was his greatest fictional creation. Here, collected in book form for the first time, are five delightful tales that capture the beleagured barrister at his grumpy, yet warm-hearted best.

Rumpole isn’t particularly fond of Christmas Day-he finds it has a horrible habit of dragging on as She Who Must Be Obeyed leads him through the usual rituals. But at least the criminal fraternity rarely takes a holiday. Whether it’s a suspicious Father Christmas, or an unseasonably nasty murder trial, there’s always something wonderfully unlawful to liven up Rumpole’s dull holiday plans.

Review:

This is a collection of short stories set over the Christmas holidays. It is very light in tone and feels like you’re sitting down over a glass of the horrible wine Rumpole drinks while he tells you these stories in his own, slightly meandering way. It is a fun read to get you in the mood for the holidays – especially if you prefer you holiday spirit with a little crime and mayhem on the side. It’s very short, and could easily be read in an evening – cup of tea and Christmas cookies optional. 

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Mystery Series Roundup

We have moved recently, and I have been a little disappointed with my new library. For one, the online e-book lending system has been upgraded since I used it last and I can’t figure out how to browse for Kindle books. It’s very unwieldy. For another, they put all their fiction in one category. ONE. That means mysteries are next to literary fiction, romance next to sci fi, all lumped into one big heap. Of course it’s neatly organized alphabetically by author, but one of the great pleasures of the library is browsing. I find it far too overwhelming to do so when you have such a large and varied selection of books. However, the redeeming feature I’ve discovered is the online hold feature. Essentially you get to shop for books online, for free, and they collect them and put them on a shelf at the front of the library for you. It’s wonderful. I came home with 11 books the last time, many of them first in a mystery series. So here are three that I’ve recently read or reread, and I hope you can find a new-to-you series to enjoy.

How do you like your mysteries? Intensity varies from low (over-easy) to high-ish (over-hard).

Over-easy: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998) (series by the same name) Alexander McCall Smith Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’ve read the first eight or so of these mysteries, and they’re just lovely. Set in Botswana, the pace is slow and rambling, like a story shared by an old friend on a back porch with iced tea. Though there is sadness in the books, the intensity level is very low. The mysteries investigated have more to do with everyday problems than murder and the books themselves are more about the characters than the investigations. A pleasant lazy Sunday afternoon read.

Blurb of first book:

This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

Over-medium: Still Life (2005) (Chief Inspector Gamache series) Louise PennyAmazon, Barnes & Noble

This was a new read for me. It had been recommended by a few different people and I finally got around to reading it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Two things I wasn’t crazy about were 1) there are a lot of characters introduced pretty quickly and 2) the point of view shifts pretty quickly and seemingly randomly. But those were fairly minor annoyances. The setting was great – a small town in Quebec, the characters were very good, and the murder itself was cleverly plotted. Her detective was interesting without being forcibly quirky and I can’t wait to learn more about him.

Blurb of first book:

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

Over-hard: Track of the Cat (1993) (Anna Pigeon series) Nevada Barr Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’ve read perhaps six or seven of this series. Each murder mystery is set in a national park, and investigated by Park Ranger Anna Pigeon. I give high marks to Barr for creating a complex main character – Anna is middle aged, stubborn, occasionally bad-tempered, and very capable – and for setting – I love the idea of using national parks as a background. Although I wouldn’t say the first book, Track of the Cat, is particularly grueling, some of her stories can be very violent and graphic. I have avoided Hard Truth, my “local” national park mystery because of fairly consist reviews saying how graphic the content matter (child abuse). Winter Study was also fairly gritty. That being said, I have continued to read books in this series. If you’re looking for an intense, page-turning mystery with great settings and interesting characters ,this just might be the series for you.

Blurb of first book:

Patrolling the remote West Texas backcountry, Anna’s first job as a national park ranger is marred by violence she thought she had left behind: the brutal death of a fellow ranger. When the cause of death is chalked up to a mountain lion attack, Anna’s rage knows no bounds. It’s up to her to save the protected cats from the politics and prejudices of the locals – and prove the kill was the work of a species far less rare.

 

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Summer Reading List – Golden Age Mysteries

I’m going to be posting some summer reading lists throughout the, well, summer. These won’t be in-depth reviews, just a list of “hey, these are great and you should drop everything and read them now!” books. I’m going to be doing it by genre, and for my first genre I’m picked Golden Age Mysteries. These are the mysteries that many people think of as the “classic” mysteries, typically written in the 1920’s or 1930’s. I love this era – so much so that they comprise the vast majority of the mysteries on my personal bookshelves that survive my frequent purges. So, here’s your summer reading list for Golden Age Mysteries:

  1. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Normally I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one (just because it’s not the first and I’m a bit obsessive that way), but I think it really is her best and if you want to give Sayers a try, this is the one to do it with. (See my review of Sayers’ work here.)
  2. Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Probably my favorite Christie, and a great introduction to her work. See more reviews of Christie here.)
  3. Opening Night / Night at the Vulcan (alternate title) (1951) by Ngaio Marsh. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I’ve only read a handful of Marsh’s works, but I’ve enjoyed all the ones that I have read. I’d rate her a bit below Agatha Christie, but still very fun to read if you like this genre. She was from New Zealand and worked in the theatre, so several of her works are set in the theatre as this one is (and also features a heroine fresh off the boat from NZ).
  4. Death of a Ghost (1934) by Margery Allingham. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. This is my favorite Allingham. Her work is a bit darker than any of the others I’ve mentioned, but this one especially is extremely well crafted. Some of her books I found the characters to be flat, but in this one they are more fleshed out.

The four authors above are considered the four original “Queens of Crime”, and reading one of each of their works would certainly constitute a good introduction into the golden age of detective fiction. Another author that I hear frequently recommended along with the four above is Josephine Tey, but I have yet to read any of her works.  So, as a bonus, I’m including:

5. Anything written by Josephine Tey. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. This is going on my reading list for the summer.

I hope you enjoy your first reading assignment from me – look for more to come!

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (2011) (Islands of Aloha Series)

Bottom line: Meh.

Rating: Recommended if

Blurb:

Even “death do us part” couldn’t spoil her wedding day plans… Wedding planner Pali Moon is thrilled when a would-be bride shows up at “Let’s Get Maui’d” inquiring about a lavish beach wedding. That is, until she learns it must be on Valentine’s Day–just nine days away. Oh yeah, and one other little hitch–the groom disappeared at sea a week earlier. But the bride’s convinced he’ll be found safe and sound, so she’s got a plan–and a man–to do a proxy ceremony if necessary. The day before the big nuptials a man’s body washes ashore on a South Maui beach. Has the groom finally shown up? If so, what’s it going to be–a wedding…or a funeral? This is the FIRST book in the “Islands of Aloha” Mystery series.

Review:

I was really excited about this book. I’m always looking for a new mystery series, and if it’s set somewhere fun I’m even happier. I got it for free, and it is very highly rated on Amazon. However, I just never got into it. The mystery itself was decent, but I had a hard time getting behind the characters. They felt clichéd to me, and interacted in odd ways. For example, the cast of good guys included: male gay best friend, quirky/hippie female best friend, and a new potential love interest with secrets. I kept skimming through the dialogue and character development pieces to get to the end, so I could figure out whodunit, why, and then move on with my life. Even then, when I got there, the ending felt rushed, and I had to skip back and read it a couple of times to see if it made sense.

So, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I know that a lot of my impressions as a reader are subjective. Maybe I was just not in the right place when I read it, I don’t know. It was well edited (thank goodness), and the writing wasn’t bad. So if you’re hankering after life in the islands, or you’re depressed because you still have to grab your winter coat when you head out the door, check it out. I probably won’t be reading any more of the series, unless I can grab another one on a free promotion. Hey, my reading habits don’t come cheap.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

More Information: The author’s website is here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of Rigged for Murder by Jenifer LeClair (2011) (Windjammer Mysteries)

Bottom line: An enjoyable book, as much for the ambience as the mystery itself.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

High seas adventure turns to high stakes sleuthing when a beautiful but troubled homicide detective and a New England sea captain join forces in this award-winning mystery set on the coast of Maine.

On leave from the Minneapolis Police Department after being shot, homicide detective Brie Beaumont has gone to Maine where she has family roots. She ships out on the Maine Wind for an early season cruise with Captain John DuLac and eight others. Caught in a gale, they anchor off remote and windswept Granite Island. But when someone aboard is murdered, Brie must single-handedly stage an investigation that moves from the ship to a small fishing village on the island. Plagued by flashbacks, and fighting a growing attraction to Captain DuLac, she works to unravel a mystery that will place her directly in the path of a psychopathic killer.

Review:

Two of my favorite things in life are reading and travelling. If I can find a book that is a great story and has enough local flavor to provide a mental journey, I’m an extremely happy camper. Rigged For Murder delivers on both counts. It’s a solid mystery, and there were enough descriptions of both the sailing and the island to give me a good feel for the setting. It’s well written, and the pace flows along nicely. I got it for free, but will be buying the next book in the series, Danger Sector.

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about it. First, there was a lot of nautical jargon, and the meanings weren’t always readily discernible from context. To be fair, I think authors generally tend to overexplain instead of the other way around, so it was nice to be treated as an intelligent creature (even if that might have been an overestimation on the author’s part!). Second, cynic that I am, it annoys me when people fall in love in a couple of days. Lastly, there are a couple of abrupt shifts in perspective, often a couple within the same paragraph. I found these a little disorienting.

Barring these minor issues (none of which are very distracting from the storyline), it’s a really fun read. I thought Brie was a great character – she was more complex than you sometimes find in these types of mysteries. Although you don’t get a lot of insight into the secondary characters, they felt realistic – characters, not caricatures.

Rigged for Murder is what I think of as a “Modern Cozy” – meaning it has several elements of a traditional cozy mystery, but there are aspects that are a little more PG-13 than you would tend to find in a traditional cozy.

What did you think of the book? Ever been sailing?

Review of Hazardous Duty by Christy Barritt (2012) (Squeaky Clean Mysteries)

Bottom line: An interesting premise for a detective, and with a well thought out story to back it up.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Buying a gun to kill your wife: $3,000
Hiring Trauma Care to clean afterward: $1,500
Having that same cleaner uncover evidence that frames you: priceless

On her way to completing a degree in forensic science, Gabby St. Claire drops out of school and starts her own crime scene cleaning business. “Yeah, that’s me,” she says, “a crime scene cleaner. People waiting in line behind me who strike up conversations always regret it.”

When a routine cleaning job uncovers a murder weapon the police overlooked, she realizes that the wrong person is in jail. But the owner of the weapon is a powerful foe . . . and willing to do anything to keep Gabby quiet.

With the help of her new neighbor, Riley Thomas, a man whose life and faith fascinate her, Gabby plays the detective to make sure the right person is put behind bars. Can Riley help her before another murder occurs?

Review:

I knew I wanted to read a mystery today, and I started several before landing on this one. From the opening line of “Whistling a tune from Fiddler on the Roof, I used my tweezers to work a piece of Gloria Cunningham’s skull out of the sky blue wall.” I was intrigued. There were many things I enjoyed : the main character was three dimensional and interesting, it had a good murder/detecting plot, and the ending leaves you satisfied but with some unanswered questions about Gabby’s past and future. I thought having the amateur detective own a crime scene cleaning business and have gone to school for forensic science was a clever way to solve the age-old mystery writers’ dilemma: how and why would ordinary people investigate a crime?

A couple of quibbles I had with the book are as follows. For one, the supporting characters felt a little flat to me. For example, the supposed best friend is militantly vegan and she’s often described that way: “the animal lover did such and such”, or we see her forcing vegan brownies down her neighbours’ throats while ranting about animal cruelty. All of which is fine, but EVERY time she appears in the story it’s while doing some animal rights activism (not “animal right’s activism.” I shouldn’t have read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. It just made me more obsessive about punctuation – other people’s, not mine, of course!) or something like that. The father is a drunk and a sponge, therefore he’s only a drunk and a sponge.

The other issue I had was with the effort to introduce matters of faith into the book. I respect writers who try to imbue their works with topics that are close to their hearts, like faith and doubt (or environmentalism or healthy living or whatever it is they hold dear), and as a Christian myself, the content certainly doesn’t offend me. However, it felt forced. Several characters brought up God seemingly out of nowhere, and Gabby sure spends a lot of time thinking about how she doesn’t believe in God.

These two issues aside, it was an enjoyable read. I had gotten the book for free quite a while ago and just today got around to reading it, but I was glad I had it on my Kindle. I haven’t decided yet whether or not to pursue the series – it looks like there are several books already out.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

More Info: http://www.christybarritt.com/

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.