Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. Hobart

Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. HobartDeath at a Fixer-Upper: A Home Sweet Home Mystery by Sarah Hobart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Home Sweet Home
Pages: 267
Published by Alibi on May 17th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

In Sarah T. Hobart’s wickedly funny and fast-paced Home Sweet Home mystery series, small-town real estate agent Sam Turner discovers it’s bad for business when her clients keep dropping dead.   Newly armed with her real estate license, Sam Turner loves Arlinda, her quirky seaside hometown in Northern California. But life by the beach isn’t exactly a breeze: She and her teenage son, Max, are being evicted from their apartment, her long absent ex-husband unexpectedly resurfaces, and her possibly romantic relationship with sexy Chief of Police Bernie Aguilar is, well . . . complicated. All Sam wants is a quick and easy sale. What she gets instead is a killer headache—or three.   Sam’s trying to drum up interest in 13 Aster Lane, a rambling Victorian fixer-upper that’s more than a little neglected—and possibly haunted—so when a trio of offers arrive out of the blue, she can’t help thinking it’s too good to be true. But after a new client drops dead on the property, she fears she’s lost more than a commission. Before Sam’s out of house and home, she must unmask a killer targeting her clients, or the only property she’ll be moving will be plots—at the local cemetery.

My Review:

This was one of those books where I’m still trying to figure out what I think and how I feel about it. I finished it last night and I’ll admit that it isn’t sticking with me. This is not a good sign.

The story certainly had possibilities. Single-mother Sam Turner is a fledgling real estate agent in what sounds like a down market, so the story felt a bit dated, as though it was set in the recession. The housing market has picked up the last couple of years, and it feels like we are now in a sellers’ market, so Sam’s lack of success didn’t feel current, especially given the description of Arlinda as a quirky if desirable place to live.

The house she is trying to sell is equally quirky, not to mention downright creepy. Did the address have to be 13 Aster Lane? Couldn’t it have been 15? Or 12? As events kept spiraling into the weird, it seemed as if the address was either intended as a portent or was just too much over the top. And in spite of the opening of the story, there is not a paranormal element in it.

This is also a small town with a lot of interesting (again, read that as quirky) characters, and it felt as if we met ALL of them.

The word “quirky” comes up a lot in descriptions of and reviews of this book. You would think that there would be some relatively normal, meaning non-quirky, people in this town. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

It also seems as if Sam is just one of those people to whom bad things happen, not always with any rhyme or reason. Her neighbors spy on her, her landlord hates her, the appraiser for her upcoming house purchase rules against her, and most of her colleagues in the real estate business are just plain nasty pieces of work.

In a twist, her boss is actually a nice guy. But everyone else she has to deal with regarding the sale of 13 Aster Lane is just nasty. She has rivals both at her own agency and at the listing agency, and both women are just unreasonably bitchy.

The mystery in this book surrounds that estate at 13 Aster Lane. For reasons that Sam doesn’t figure out until the very end, all sorts of strange and bizarre people are interested in the broken-down mansion, sight unseen. And Sam keeps tripping over the dead bodies of all of those potential purchasers.

It all seems very bizarrely coincidental, until a figure out of her own wacky past turns up out of the seeming blue. And then she discovers that she’s been played all along.

Escape Rating C-: I never warmed up to Sam. In the story, it always seems like she’s in way over her head, which can make things interesting. However, she takes that “over her head” feeling and spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself, and/or letting other people walk all over her.

Ironically, the deed that most of her fellow real estate agents, those of the cutthroat variety, would most laugh at her for is the one that reaps her the biggest reward at the end.

But the world of real estate that Sam is attempting to inhabit is not a good place, not for her, not for anyone. And she’s mostly unsuccessful in a realm where you have to support yourself on commissions and not salary. She’s not managing and not rethinking. And letting herself be run over by bitches on wheels. In one case, almost literally.

This was also a story where there were two sets of villains, each more unlikely than the other, and both equally out of left field. While the reader always suspects that there is something hinky about all of the sudden offers on the very dilapidated property, and that none of the prospective buyers are remotely on the up and up, the degree to which the solution comes out of nowhere was a bit breathtaking.

And the other piece of villainy was completely out of the blue.

I received this book from NetGalley via Random House Chatterbox for an honest review. Which is turning out to be a review that says I honestly didn’t like this book very much. While I loved the first book I received through this program, The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate, that was a book in a series I had previously read and enjoyed. The second book, Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig, was okay but not as good as the Wingate. This one continues the downward trend, and I’m rethinking my entire participation in the Chatterbox.

Reviewer’s Note: In the process of prepping this post I discovered that the author has published at least two previous books in this series under another name. That explains why it seems like we’re meeting Sam in the middle of her mess rather than being introduced to her. But I am even less thrilled that this is the third book in a series and that the marketing makes it seem like the first book. Your mileage may vary.

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