Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Boughs of Holly (A Liz Talbot Mystery, #10) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #10
Pages: 258
Published by Henery Press on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but Private Investigator Liz Talbot is struggling to feel festive. She hasn’t seen her best friend, Colleen, in weeks and fears she may never see her again in this life. Meanwhile Nate, Liz’s husband and partner, is spending money like he prints it in the attic on a mysterious family Christmas celebration. Liz’s nerves are shot, and she hasn’t even decked a single hall. But there’s simply no time to fret.
On a morning beach run, Liz spots a wooden rowboat run aground with Santa inside. Did Old Saint Nick have too much eggnog at the boat parade? No indeedy—Santa’s been shot. And he’s none other than C.C. Bounetheau, patriarch of one of Charleston’s wealthiest families.
Liz and Nate already unwrapped quite a few family secrets while searching for the Bounetheau’s missing granddaughter last year—enough to make them swear to steer forever clear of the entire clan. But as Mr. Bounetheau’s body is found in Stella Maris, and Liz and Nate are the police chief’s on-call detectives, they’re on the case.
With no shortage of suspects, Liz and Nate dash to find a killer who may be working his or her way down a naughty list.
Spend Christmas in the Lowcountry with the Talbot family and their friends in Susan M. Boyer’s latest Southern charmer, Lowcountry Boughs of Holly. Tis the season for merry mayhem!

My Review:

As the saying goes, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” But there’s a kind of codicil to that saying that goes, “Every woman needs roots.” And in several peculiar, holly covered and sometimes holly strangled ways, that combination of contradictions is the essence of this story.

Along with that always-applicable thing about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Not that anyone in Stella Maris actually has absolute power, not even Colleen the ghost with her mission from, let’s call it, “on high” to preserve the character, ecology and population balance of beautiful Stella Maris island.

(Please consider all of the above as a tease, because if I explain ANY of it I’ll give away the entire thing.)

There are always some people who think they have that power – and certainly act like they do. And one of them has just turned up dead on the Stella Maris shoreline, the morning after the island’s annual Christmas boat parade. Whatever the circumstances surrounding C.C. Bounetheau’s death, one thing that Private Investigator Liz Talbot is certain of is that he didn’t die of drowning, despite his corpse’s location.

Someone shot C.C. straight through the heart. While he was wearing a Santa suit.

The question is not only whodunnit but why they did it. C.C.’s wife has a well-deserved reputation for “eliminating” people that get in her way, but Abigail Bounetheau has always hired out her dirty work.

The family certainly has plenty of money to make that possible. Even after the ill-gotten gains of her drug-kingpin twin sons were removed from the equation – along with the two men, the apples of their mother’s eye, who are now serving a lot of time in prison.

But money makes for plenty of motives, and the Bounetheaus certainly have plenty of it.

The question before Liz and her partner/husband Nate is whether that money is the reason for C.C.’s murder – and if so in what way? Did someone need C.C. to die earlier than nature intended – even though the man was 80 – so that they could inherit whatever they believed was coming to them?

Did someone want revenge for either the twins’ actions or C.C.’s own – even if that action was in the long past? Or did one of the twins’ former partners fear that C.C. knew of their involvement – and would talk?

Liz and Nate, contracted to the Stella Maris Police Department for any cases that required more investigative skills that the tiny SMPD has on tap, find themselves in the thick of the case and under the gun – literally and figuratively – and without the assistant of Liz’ ghostly friend Colleen.

But this case is so twisted that it may take Colleen’s “special gifts” to get it solved in time for Christmas!

Escape Rating B+: I didn’t realize until I started this entry in the series that I missed a couple of the preceding books. While I didn’t absolutely NEED to have read Lowcountry Boomerang and Lowcountry Boondoggle to get into this one, I’m kinda sorry that I hadn’t read them first, as they introduce the Bounetheau family and explain why Colleen seems to have abandoned Liz at the beginning of this story.

Howsomever, there’s plenty of explication about the Bounetheaus to make the situation perfectly clear to anyone who hasn’t read those two books. But the whole thing, particularly Abigail’s apparently well-known but never proven murderous ways, sounds absolutely fascinating and I’ll have to go back and pick up what I missed.

That being said, this is not the place to get started with this series if you haven’t read any of them at all. The background on Colleen’s part in the whole series as the genius loci of Stella Maris needs more explanation than one gets 10 books into this series.

Besides, the whole thing is tremendously fun and highly recommended pretty much anytime there’s a Goodreads or Facebook query about terrific cozy mystery series. So if you haven’t had the pleasure, and it definitely is a great deal of pleasure, start with Lowcountry Boil.

But I decided to read this now instead of backtracking because, this is a holiday story and well, ‘tis the season and all that. And I’m very happy that I did!

There’s something about this series that reminds me of both of Miranda James’ cozy mystery series, Cat in the Stacks and Southern Ladies Mysteries. Part of that is the setting, as James’ series are set in a small college town in Mississippi, while Stella Maris is a small town on a small island in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The towns do have a similar feel to them, as well as a similarly unrealistic number of murders.

I think I just compared Diesel, the intelligent and empathetic Maine Coon cat from the Cat in the Stacks to Colleen the ghost, and it sorta/kinda works. Abigail Bounetheau certainly reads like the Ducote Sisters’ evil twin. But they wield the same kind of economic and social power in their respective communities, even though the Ducote Sisters only use their powers for good.

And I’ll confess that I like the idea of an 80something woman as an evil villain. It gives me something to aspire towards. Not the villainy, but certainly the vitality!

If you like Liz Talbot and Stella Maris, you’ll like Charlie Harris and Diesel, and very much vice versa. Which is a great thing as the publication date for Liz’ next adventure is still a mystery!

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