Review: Cat Shining Bright by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Shining Bright by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Shining Bright (Joe Grey #20) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Joe Grey #20
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on August 15th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The stakes are higher and more personal than ever for feline investigator Joe Grey when death comes to his beloved coastal California town in this twentieth installment of the enchanting cat mystery series.
While new father Joe Grey is overjoyed to teach his three young kittens about the world, he misses his cop work — secretly helping solve crimes alongside his human friends at Molena Point P. D. But when beautician Barbara Conley and one of her customers are found dead in the salon, Joe makes an exception, he heads for the crime scene. He has no idea that the kittens are following him, or how they will complicate the investigation.
But this is not the only danger to the kittens. A stranger is lurking around the home of Joe’s tabby lady, Dulcie, where the kittens were born. Both parents’ backs are up and their claws out, ready to protect their babies and to protect Wilma Getz, Dulcie’s human housemate.
As the death of the beautician becomes entangled with a gang of thieves working the village, Joe, Dulcie, Kit and Pan are all into the investigation; and they are led to unexpected connections, to the building of the new cat shelter and to a neighbor who becomes suddenly an unexpected part of the tangle.
Joe Grey fans will relish this latest installment following their favorite feline detective and his growing group of friends.

My Review:

There are two threads in Cat Shining Bright. One is indeed a bright shiny thread, and the other is dark and twisted. A fairly fitting combination for this series.

The bright and shining thread revolves around talking feline detective Joe Grey, his tabby lady Dulcie, and their three kittens, born at the very beginning of the book (also at the very end of the previous book, Cat Shout for Joy.

Joe Grey, Dulcie, and their feline friends Kit and Pan are talking cats with human-level intelligence. Also with human-level emotions, maturity and conflicts. They walk a very fine line between feline instincts and human complications.

As for why these particular cats, or for that matter the feral clowder of cats that congregate at the old Pamillon Estate, all have the capacity for human speech, no one knows. Which brings an air of suspense to the birth of Joe Grey and Dulcie’s kittens. Everyone, both human and feline, hopes that they will be speaking cats like their parents, but there is no certainty until they open their little mouths and something comes out besides “meow”.

Because cats mature relatively quickly, a big part of this story encapsulates all the joys and trepidations of parenthood into a brief four-month period, as the three kittens, Buffin, Striker and Courtney grow from blind, mewling fluffballs to young adults ready to strike out on their own.

While Joe Grey worries about his new family, and Dulcie is both contented and stir-crazy hovering over the kittens during their early months, a gang of sophisticated car thieves preys on Molena Point and the neighboring small towns along the California Coast.

Their pattern is insidious. They strike a town, and for two or three days steal as many late-model cars as they can, while trashing all the cars they can’t steal and robbing the trashed cars of any valuables. After a two or three day rampage, they move to the next town, and the one after that. A few weeks later they return and start all over again. And even though the police manage to arrest a few members of the gang each time, the gang itself seems to continue unimpaired.

While Dulcie is cooped up with the kittens, Joe Grey, Kit and Pan do their best to help the police track the gang, at least whenever they hit Molena Point. Meanwhile, Dulcie’s human friend Wilma is threatened with a problem of her own, one that puts Dulcie, the kittens and possibly all the speaking cats in grave danger.

It’s not until Joe Grey and the police are able to connect ALL the dots that both cases can come to their proper conclusion. And unfortunately, not until after grand theft auto escalates to murder most foul.

Escape Rating B: I love this series, and I really enjoyed my visit to Molena Point to see both the cats and the humans are doing. As Cat Shining Bright is the 20th book in the series, and I’ve read them all (including the semi-sorta-prequel The Catswold Portal) I feel like these two and four-legged people are all friends and I’m always glad to visit and see what everyone is up to.

If the idea of a story featuring a sentient (and often smart-alecky) cat sounds like catnip to you, start with Joe Grey’s first adventure, Cat on the Edge. A lot of what makes Cat Shining Bright work for fans is the emotional investment, and that just takes time to develop. You could probably start anywhere in the earlier books, but the last four rely on previous knowledge and involvement with the series to really come together.

As much as I enjoyed Cat Shining Bright, it felt like both threads of the story were a bit blinded by that shining brightness.. Your mileage may vary.

On the mystery side of the equation, it doesn’t feel quite so much like Joe Grey and the Molena Point PD solve the case as that the solution falls into their laps (at least for those of the two-legged persuasion who actually HAVE laps, that it). The criminals were fairly ingenious in their methods, the cats were distracted, and the humans just couldn’t catch a break. At least not until everything broke all at once.

And I’m not sure we ever got the full story on Wilma’s problem. It ended, but for this reader it felt like some of the whys and wherefores were missing.

The feline side of the equation had a lot more bright spots. Listening in on Joe Grey’s thought processes as he deals with fatherhood and watches the kittens grow up in what to humans would be accelerated time works well. We feel for his dilemma. Joe Grey is a warrior and a protector. He wants to protect his family, his humans and his town, and those drives come into conflict. He also loves his kittens but recognizes that he has to not merely let them, but actually help them, grow up. And he’s “human” enough not to want to.

The fates and futures of the kittens are tied up in prophecies made the wise old cat Misto near his end, during Cat Shout for Joy. Misto’s wisdom and the kittens various powers are tied in with the feral speaking cats at the old Pamillon Estate, with the ancient past of the speaking cats, and with the events of The Catsworld Portal and an earlier book in Joe Grey’s series, Cat Bearing Gifts. It looks like little Courtney is going to be the cat that connects that particular set of dots, so there’s a lot left hanging.

One final note about the human side of the story. One of the issues for the humans in this story is what to do about the secret that they are the caretakers for. There is a small circle of humans that knows all about the cats’ talents, including Joe Grey’s people, Clyde and his wife Ryan, Dulcie’s human, Wilma, and Kit and Pan’s human family, the Greenlaws. The vet John Firetti also knows, which is both convenient for the cats and necessary for parts of this particular story. As their humans have found life companions, the circle of people in on this dangerous secret has slowly widened. That’s what happens here, as the speaking ferals take it upon themselves to let Scott Flannery in on their secret so their friend Kate can have her happily ever after. Kate was right that it would be impossible to have a good marriage with a lie that big at its heart.

Which begs the question, what about Charlie and Max? Charlie knows the secret, and has known for a long time. But her husband Max does not know. Max is the Chief of the Molena Point Police Department, and everyone is afraid that if Max discovers that his best snitches are Joe Grey, Dulcie and Kit, that he will stop letting them help him, which would certainly contribute to a rise in the Molena Point crime rate. But how long can this go on?

Hopefully we’ll find out in one of Joe Grey’s future adventures, hopefully sometime next year.

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda James

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda JamesFile M for Murder (Cat in the Stacks, #3) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #3
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on January 31st 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Athena College's new writer in residence is native son and playwright Connor Lawton, known for his sharp writing- and sharper tongue. After an unpleasant encounter, librarian Charlie Harris heads home to a nice surprise: his daughter Laura is subbing for another Athena professor this fall semester. It's great news until he hears who got her the job: her old flame, Connor Lawton...
Fearing competition for Connor's affections, one of his admirers tries to drive Laura out of town. And then, before Connor finishes the play he is writing, he is murdered- and Laura is the prime suspect. Knowing she's innocent, Charlie and his faithful sidekick, Diesel, follow Connor's cluttered trail of angry lovers, bitter enemies, and intriguing research to find the true killer before his daughter is forever cataloged under "M"- for murderer.

My Review:

I am predisposed to like this series. The amateur sleuth is a 50-something librarian named Harris who loves his enormous cat. Said cat is excellent at providing aid and comfort (but mostly comfort) to anyone in his orbit who needs it, and sometimes serves as a great sounding board for his human.

We all talk to our cats, and we all believe that they understand at least some of what we say, and vice versa. Diesel, while rather large for a cat, because Maine Coons are very large cats, acts like a cat a bit on the high end of feline intelligence. But no more than that. One of the things I love about Diesel is that he never does anything that cats don’t do – albeit writ somewhat large. It’s not uncommon for Maine Coon cats to be three feet long from nose to tail, and for the males to top out at over 20 pounds. Diesel is a big, handsome boy with a purr that sounds like, you guessed it, a diesel engine.

And Charlie Harris is very much a librarian. I can easily identify with what he does at work, and why he does it. And also why he loves the parts of this job that he loves, and dislikes the parts he doesn’t love. He rings true as “one of us”. Except for that fascinating habit he has of getting involved in murder. Like so many fictional small town amateur detectives, he does have a gift for tripping over dead bodies and inserting himself into police investigations. It’s a knack that the local police detective finds more annoying than endearing, to say the least.

This particular case hits rather close to home. On the plus side, Charlie’s daughter Laura is home in Athena for the summer, teaching a drama class at the local college where Charlie works. On the minus side, she got the temporary gig through the influence of this year’s resident playwright at the university. And Connor Lawton is a major pain in the ass. Not just to Charlie, but to every single person he comes in contact with. He’s rude, arrogant and downright nasty to all, and no one likes him one bit.

He’s one of those people who is just such a big arsehole that no one seems to mourn him when he’s found dead in his apartment. Rather, the long line of people who might want to do him in stretches rather far.

But once Connor is out of the way, whoever is behind his death turns their gaze upon Laura Harris, and her family finds itself under threat from all sides. Charlie, as usual, feels like it’s all up to him to figure out whodunit – before the killer manages to either kill his daughter or burn down his house with everyone inside.

Escape Rating B: This series is always a good time. I got hooked when I picked up Twelve Angry Librarians, and so far I have yet to be disappointed by a single trip to Athena, Mississippi. I grabbed this one because I bounced hard off of two books, and needed something that I knew would draw me right in, and File M for Murder certainly delivered.

The mysteries in this series are definitely cozy. And not just because Diesel, like all Maine Coons, is a very furry cat. Athena, Mississippi is a small college town, and everyone pretty much does know everyone. When Charlie needs to find the dirt on someone living in town, he knows just who to ask. And when he has to do research on someone’s past doings, he knows just which library has all the resources he needs, as well as the skill to use them.

There are plenty of cat mysteries, but one of the things that I like best about this series is that Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, but just a cat. He doesn’t do anything that cats don’t do. Even in this particular story, where there is one point where Diesel really does save the day, he does it by smelling something off and meowing about it until he gets his human’s attention. Not all of us receive letter bombs (thank goodness) but that a cat would sniff out that the thing just smells “wrong” in a big way is quite possible.

It’s not that I don’t love Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey series, because I do, but one talking cat mystery series is probably enough. Or at least it is for this reader.

Another thing that I enjoy about this series is that Charlie is not always the first person to solve the mystery, the best person to solve the mystery, or even the person who saves the day by solving the mystery. In Charlie’s cases, he does get in the way of the police as often as he helps them. He doesn’t always do the cliche thing of getting all the suspects together for the big reveal. Sometimes the solution is anti-climactic, and Charlie is a step behind the police. It feels more human, and more likely, that an amateur sleuth would be as much of a hindrance as a help, while it still gives the reader a chance to put the pieces together along with Charlie, mistakes and all.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy and fun mystery series, with lovely people in an interesting setting, check out Charlie and Diesel. You don’t have to start with Murder Past Due (I didn’t) – this series is just good cozy fun wherever you jump in.

Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah Fox

Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah FoxFor Whom the Bread Rolls (A Pancake House Mystery #2) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #2
Pages: 248
Published by Alibi on March 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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From the author of The Crêpes of Wrath comes another decadent cozy mystery. This time, pancake house owner Marley McKinney is tangling with a salty troublemaker . . . and a ravenous killer.
Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!
Tourist season’s in full swing in the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove, and Marley McKinney couldn’t be happier. Since taking over the Flip Side restaurant, she’s made a few close friends, adopted a cat named Flapjack, and started dating her childhood crush. The only cloud on the horizon is local nuisance Ida Winkler, who blames Marley for landing her nephew in prison. Trying to get a rise out of Marley, Ida’s been making crank calls and even vandalizing the pancake house.
The police can’t do much about the pranks, so Marley sets out to bury the hatchet once and for all. But someone’s beat her to it—in the most shocking way possible. After stumbling across Ida’s dead body, Marley’s suddenly the number-one suspect in her murder. Clearing her good name is going to be a tall order, but Marley’s not about to let Ida keep ruining her life—especially from beyond the grave.

My Review:

Just like the first book in this cozy series, The Crepes of Wrath, the title of this second book is just a bit over-the-top cute. And so is the book.

The series is definitely very cozy. In Crepes, Marley inherited her cousin Jimmy’s small-town pancake house, The Flip Side. And solved his murder. In this second book, Marley is settling into her new life in tiny, touristy Wildwood Cove – and neck deep in yet another murder.

I sense a trend.

At the end of Crepes, Marley’s meddling into the investigation of Cousin Jimmy’s death results in, among other things, nasty Ida Winkler’s son landing, quite justifiably, in prison. But Ida is both nasty and crazy, and is doing everything she can to run Marley out of business and out of town. However, Ida isn’t terribly effective, and Marley is just (and quite justifiably) annoyed.

Not that anyone in town has a single nice thing to say about Ida. She’s a piece of work. But while no one would miss her if she moved away, no one seems to hate her enough to want her dead. Which doesn’t stop Marley from just about tripping over Ida’s corpse.

And Marley has just enough of a motive, and just enough of a window of opportunity, to put herself at the top of the suspect list. So of course she decides that the best thing she can do to clear her name and protect her business is to “help” the police investigate the murder, annoying half the town (but not as badly as Ida) and putting herself squarely in the killer’s sights.

Again.

Escape Rating C+: The series is still cute. I particularly love Marley’s cat Flapjack, who is just a cat and doesn’t solve murders. But he’s a sweet boy and I wouldn’t mind having one just like him. He’s also very good, as cats often are, at knowing when his person needs an extra cuddle.

Sticking oneself into the middle of a murder investigation is enough to make any sane person need a little extra feline TLC.

But Marley’s motives for nosing around town don’t seem quite as clear-cut or as compelling as in the previous book. She loved Cousin Jimmy, and felt terribly guilty that she hadn’t been around more. And as his unexpected heir, she really was the logical murderer, if not the correct one. Following the money led straight to Marley.

However, no one seriously believes that Marley is Ida’s murderer, and that includes the cops. Not just because they know her now, but because they actually are capable of doing their jobs. Marley’s insecurity about how this latest investigation will affect her business is a bit all in her head.

And while she “investigates” one crime, she trips over two more. Someone seems to have been blackmailing local residents over mostly petty incidents, and everyone assumes that it was the late, unlamented Ida. She certainly was nasty and judgmental enough to have been the blackmailer. As if that wasn’t enough of a crime spree, someone is illegally dumping large garbage piles on the shore, and one of those dumps contains remnants of a meth lab.

While this probably isn’t a lot of crime for a small town with loads of tourists, it is a lot of coincidence for one completely amateur and occasionally inept investigator to trip over and more or less solve. The connections between the crimes feels tangential at best, and Marley just can’t resist poking her nose into all of them. It felt like more than a bit much.

Over-the-top, just like the titles. But I like Marley a lot, and I’m still enough interested in her adventures to give the series one more try. The next book, Of Spice and Men, is scheduled for the end of the summer. The perfect time for a beach read, set in a beach town, possibly with a beach murder. We’ll see.

Review: Every Trick in the Rook by Marty Wingate

Review: Every Trick in the Rook by Marty WingateEvery Trick in the Rook (Birds of a Feather #3) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #3
Pages: 251
Published by Alibi on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Julia Lanchester’s perch is knocked askew when murder hits a little too close to home in this delightful cozy mystery.
Julia Lanchester is flying high. She’s nesting with her boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, and she’s found her niche as manager of the tourist center in her picturesque British village. Thanks to all her hard work, visitors are up—way up. Her reward is an even more hectic schedule. Michael’s busy, too, traveling all over as the personal assistant to Julia’s father, celebrity ornithologist Rupert Lanchester. With precious little time together, Julia’s romantic weekend with Michael can’t come soon enough.
But the getaway is spoiled when Julia’s ex-husband is found murdered on her boss’s estate. And after a witness reports seeing Michael near the scene of the crime, the press descends, printing lies and wreaking havoc. To protect Julia, Michael vanishes into thin air, leaving her to pick up the slack on Rupert’s show and track down the real killer—even if it means putting herself in the flight path of a vicious predator.

My Review:

Welcome to the latest chapter in the trials and tribulations of Julia Lanchester, otherwise known as the Birds of a Feather series.

I put it that way because Julia’s very amateur mystery solving keeps getting itself tied up in Julia’s romantic life as well as Julia’s relationship with her famous father, Rupert Lanchester. Rupert just happens to be a well-known ornithologist (read bird watcher) on the BBC, and producing his weekly TV program used to be Julia’s job.

Now it’s the job of her boyfriend, the much put-upon Michael Sedgwick. Or at least it’s Michael’s job when Julia’s past, Rupert’s present, and dead bodies don’t turn up and get themselves in everybody’s way.

Especially Julia’s. Especially because the dead body in this mystery is the body of her ex-husband. Not that there seems to have been much life in Nick Hawkins, or in their marriage, when they were together. A time that is now five years in Julia’s past, and not missed at all. And neither was Nick.

Julia just wishes he’d stayed out of her life, and on his extremely remote island birding sanctuary where he belonged, instead of turning up dead on the grounds of the local estate where she runs the Tourist Information Center. Even in death, Nick Hawkins manages to snuff all the joy out of Julia’s life. One last time.

Escape Rating B: My teaser/summary of the plot above feels just a bit sarcastic, and reflects some of my mixed feelings about the book.

I like Julia Lanchester as the heroine quite a bit. She seems both real and relatable, except for the way that dead bodies and mysteries keep inserting themselves into her life. But we wouldn’t be reading about her if they didn’t.

And her ex sounds like a complete piece of work. We are never sorry that he’s dead. And neither is Julia, which provides a great deal of angst in her story. His death brings up all of her negative feelings about him from their unhappy marriage, and she feels guilty for not feeling more grief. Mostly she’s angry, and mostly at herself. I’ll admit to being able to relate. Many of us probably have a couple of exes that we firmly believe the world won’t miss.

The behavior of the paparazzi is utterly hateful. Again, something that we all currently believe is all too possible. The gutter-press seems willing to insinuate anything and everything dirty, salacious and malicious in the hopes of getting a reaction. Their story will then be the reaction – none of them seem remotely interested in the truth. And doesn’t that feel all too familiar?

But what made this outing in the series less entertaining than particularly the first book, The Rhyme of the Magpie, has to do with Julia’s, as well as her boyfriend Michael’s, reaction to the ensuing mess.

Many long-running mystery series have either a romantic subplot, or a will they/won’t they romantic dilemma in them somewhere. Julia and Michael resolve their romantic quandary in the first book. But unlike the author’s other series, the Potting Shed mysteries, Julia and Michael have not (or at least not yet) become true partners in solving the murders that Julia trips over. Instead, the murder investigations in Empty Nest and now Every Trick in the Rook drive a wedge between them. Once seems plausible, twice starts to stretch coincidence.

I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen again in the fourth book, which is another way of saying that I also sincerely hope that there IS a fourth book. I still like the series.

And one of the reasons that I like the series is that the author usually does manage to fool me into not solving the mystery too soon. I got my inklings of the solution about the same time that Julia did, and the resolution kept me turning pages briskly, especially at the very end. And if that wasn’t enough, Tennyson, the rook of the title, absolutely steals the show – along with the shortbread!

Review: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

Review: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda JamesTwelve Angry Librarians (Cat in the Stacks, #8) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #8
Pages: 288
Published by Berkley Books on February 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The "New York Times" bestselling author of "No Cats Allowed "and "Arsenic and Old Books" is back with more Southern charm and beguiling mystery as Charlie and Diesel must find a killer in a room full of librarians... Light-hearted librarian Charlie Harris is known around his hometown of Athena, Mississippi, for walking his cat, a rescued Maine Coon named Diesel. But he may soon be taken for a walk himself in handcuffs... Charlie is stressed out. The Southern Academic Libraries Association is holding this year s annual meeting at Athena College. Since Charlie is the interim library director, he must deliver the welcome speech to all the visiting librarians. And as if that weren t bad enough, the keynote address will be delivered by Charlie s old nemesis from library school. It s been thirty years since Charlie has seen Gavin Fong, and he s still an insufferable know-it-all capable of getting under everyone s skin. In his keynote, Gavin puts forth a most unpopular opinion: that degreed librarians will be obsolete in the academic libraries of the future. So, when Gavin is found dead, no one seems too upset... But Charlie, who was seen having a heated argument with Gavin after the speech, has jumped to the top of the suspect list. Now Charlie and Diesel must check out every clue to refine their search for the real killer among them before the next book Charlie reads comes from a prison library..."

My Review:

This series has been on my TBR pile for quite a while, but a couple of relatively recent events got me to finally pick it up. Last year I updated an “Author Read Alike” article for Novelist about the late Lilian Jackson Braun and her Cat Who mysteries. Miranda James’ Cat in the Stacks series came up as a strong read alike. A couple of months ago this particular title came up as I was interviewed for NetGalley’s Reader Spotlight feature. I was asked about book covers I was particularly looking forward to, and this was the book I chose. Why? Not that the handsome cat on the cover isn’t a draw all by himself, but it’s the title that really got me. Twelve Angry Librarians begs a question from most of us. What, ONLY twelve?

But about the book and the series. The series focuses on librarian Charlie Harris and his large and intelligent cat Diesel. Charlie lies in the small town of Athena Mississippi, where he is currently the interim director of the college library at the college he attended way back. Even though he left tiny Athena for library school in Houston and a long career there, he went back to Athena when his aunt left him her rambling house, and he’s made it his home.

Charlie has a penchant for getting involved in murder investigations, strictly on an amateur basis. He seems to have acquired that temporary director job after his predecessor was murdered, and of course Charlie figured out who the culprit was. (I haven’t read the whole series, YET, and it did not in any way spoil my enjoyment of this book. But I did enjoy it a lot, and plan to pick up the rest!)

Whether the job is reward or punishment depends on just how many fires he has to put out that day.

But part of the job is playing genial host to the regional library association when they hold their annual conference in Athena. While Charlie has plenty of friends, the social whirl of the conference isn’t all that appealing. And that’s before he discovers that his library school nemesis is not only the keynote speaker, but has also applied for the permanent job that Charlie is temporarily holding.

Gavin Fong is slime. And saying that is an insult to slime. He has accumulated so many enemies that it’s amazing that he’s lived as long as he has. It is not a surprise that someone murders him at the conference, although spiking his water bottle with cyanide might seem a bit extreme. But no one misses the bastard.

Charlie’s lucky he has an alibi for the crime, after half the conference witnessed him punching the jerk’s lights out the day before, followed by applause from the approving crowd. But with the conference and the murder, Charlie is in the thick of the investigation, whether he wants to be, or not.

When a second dead body turns up, it seems like everyone is a possible suspect. And a possible next victim. But which is which?

Escape Rating A-: This was an excellent cozy mystery, but I have some personal mixed feelings. The description of the crowd of the librarians and the details of the job of librarian were very true to life. To the point where I’m surprised this series is as popular as it is with general readers. The situations described, unfortunately including the nastiness of the victim, were so true-to-life that they almost gave me flashbacks. That the author is a practicing librarian was no surprise to this reader.

Originally I picked this as a read alike for the Cat Who mysteries. But in spite of a few surface details, the series aren’t really alike, although I think that readers of one will like the other. The similarity is that both Charlie Harris and Jim Qwilleran inherited rambling houses in small towns from late aunts and retired from the big city to the small town to live in those lovely homes. And, of course, they have cats. And poke their noses into local crimes.

But Q believes that his Siamese cat Koko helps him solve those mysteries. Diesel, on the other hand, is just a cat. He’s huge, but then, Maine Coon cats are really that big. He walks on a lead, but it is possible to train a cat to do that. Diesel is also very cuddly, and very responsive to the moods of the people around him. Cats that have their own staff, in the dogs have owners, cats have staff sense, can be quite affectionate and responsive. Diesel is a smart cat, but on a scale compared to other cats. He’s not human intelligent or psychic or whatever Q thinks Koko is.

Not that I wouldn’t love to have a Maine Coon. They are absolutely gorgeous cats, and very even tempered. They can afford to be – at 25 pounds (average cats weigh around ten pounds!) they are bigger than most things that might unnerve or threaten them, including small dogs.

More than anything else, the book that Twelve Angry Librarians reminds me of is Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb. The situations are surprisingly similar. Bimbos also takes place at a small convention, in this case a science fiction convention. So it has the same relatively enclosed setting of a bunch of people who know each other casually but see each other regularly and who have something in common. Everyone is away from home, and what happens at the convention, either kind, generally stays at the convention. Both Jay Omega and Charlie Harris are very amateur detectives. And both victims were such disgusting examples of human beings that the reader is almost grateful when they get killed, as are most of the conference attendees. So both are cases where the list of people who did not have a motive is much, much shorter than the list of people who did.

For a cozy series, it is necessary that the protagonist and his family of ‘irregulars’ be both interesting and likable. Charlie and Diesel certainly fit that bill. Charlie is someone I would love to have coffee with and share stories, especially if I could pet Diesel while doing it. The people who populate Charlie’s life and his world all seem to have their own interesting tales to tell. I also like that a part of the story is Charlie’s warm relationship both with his now adult children and with the woman in his life. Long-running mystery series often include a will they/won’t they romance, but having that romance feature 50-somethings is rare and wonderful. (It this factor appeals to you, dig into Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed Mysteries for a similar romantic sub-sub-plot)

I’m glad I finally clawed my way into the Cat in the Stacks series, and I’m looking forward to going back to pick up the beginning in Murder Past Due as soon as I get a copy. From the library, of course.

Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie

Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha ChristieClosed Casket (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #2) by Sophie Hannah, Agatha Christie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: New Hercule Poirot #2
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The world's most famous detective returns in this ingenious, stylish, and altogether delicious mystery from the author of the instant bestseller The Monogram Murders ("I was thrilled" -- Gillian Flynn).
"What I intend to say to you will come as a shock..."
With these words, Lady Athelinda Playford -- one of the world's most beloved children's authors -- springs a surprise on the lawyer entrusted with her will. As guests arrive for a party at her Irish mansion, Lady Playford has decided to cut off her two children without a penny . . . and leave her vast fortune to someone else: an invalid who has only weeks to live.
Among Lady Playford's visitors are two strangers: the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited -- until Poirot begins to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murder. But why does she seem so determined to provoke a killer? And why -- when the crime is committed despite Poirot's best efforts to stop it -- does the identity of the victim make no sense at all?
Addictive, ferociously clever, and packed with clues, wit, and murder, Closed Casket is a triumph from the author whose work is "as tricky as anything written by Agatha Christie" (Alexander McCall Smith, The New York Times Book Review).

My Review:

monogram murders by sophie hannah and agatha christieJust as in last year’s Poirot, The Monogram Murders, Closed Casket provides an extremely convoluted but incredibly fun trip back to the world of Agatha Christie’s most famous detective, the eccentric Belgian Hercule Poirot.

This case is somewhat of a direct followup to the one in The Monogram Murders. While none of the victims or suspects in that case reappear, Poirot’s young police friend and official cover, Edward Catchpool, is an integral part of this case as well.

And poor Catchpool, every time someone meets him, they refer back to that dreadful case. The solution was not dreadful at all, but Catchpool is all too aware that he did not exactly cover himself in glory, and all of the reporting on that case made his situation even worse. It was Poirot’s case, and the entire world knows it, much to Catchpool’s chagrin.

Which makes his discovery that Poirot has also been invited to Lady Athelinda Playford’s house party in Ireland both welcome and galling at the same time. Catchpool wants to solve whatever is about to happen all on his own, but he is aware that he still needs Poirot’s help. And he’s also just plain glad to see the irascible little fellow, especially as the other occupants of the household are less than agreeable. To say the least. Catchpool and Poirot have been dropped into the middle of a family melodrama, where everyone seems to be showing their worst side to everyone else.

Of course somebody ends up dead. And of course it is up to Poirot and Catchpool to figure out whodunnit.

Escape Rating B: This one is every bit as much fun as The Monogram Murders, and feels very much in the style of the later seasons of the Poirot series. Not only because Inspector Japp, Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon no longer seem to be members of Poirot’s inner circle, but also because the original mover of events, Lady Athelinda Playford, bears a sharp resemblance to Lady Ariadne Oliver of those later stories.

Lady Playford is the author of a series of children’s mystery books featuring her precocious ten-year-old heroine Shrimp Seddon. As Catchpool puts in, Shrimp is left to solve so many convoluted mysteries because the police assigned to the case are Inspector Imbecile and Sergeant Halfwit.

It’s a bit of irony that the pair of Irish gardai who come to investigate the real-life murder might double for the coppers in Shrimp Seddon’s adventures. Of course it is up to Poirot and Catchpool to handle the real investigation, over the stringent objections of their avatar of Inspector Imbecile.

Parts of this case are obvious from the beginning. Not so much the whodunnit as the why somebody dunnit. This is a case with motives aplenty. Nearly everyone wanted the dead man to be dead, albeit for different reasons. And the initial investigation rules out very few of the possibilities.

There are oodles of tempting red herrings, and all of them prove tasty to the investigation, at least for a time.

Much of this case revolves around psychology. The psychology of the killer, but mostly the psychology of the victim. The motives in the end would work as well in a 21st century thriller as they do this early-20th century murder mystery. But the melodrama is pure Poirot.

closet casket uk coverAnd just as with The Monogram Murders, the UK cover of Closed Casket does a much better job of capturing the Art Deco style that I associate with Poirot than the US cover. C’est la vie.

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Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox

Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah FoxThe Crêpes of Wrath (A Pancake House Mystery #1) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #1
Pages: 240
Published by Alibi on August 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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In the debut of a delightful cozy mystery series, Sarah Fox introduces a charming new heroine who finds herself in a sticky situation: stacking pancakes, pouring coffee, and investigating murder.
When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers, but then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff.
After she stumbles across evidence of stolen goods in Jimmy’s workshop, Marley is determined to find out what’s really going on in the not-so-quiet town of Wildwood Cove. With help from her childhood crush and her adopted cat, Flapjack, Marley sinks her teeth into the investigation. But if she’s not careful, she’s going to get burned by a killer who’s only interested in serving up trouble.

My Review:

This is a very cute start to a new cozy mystery series. On the one hand, it’s a bit light and fluffy, sort of like the pancakes at The Flip Side Pancake House. On that other hand, the red herrings are savory enough to be served at one of the dinner options in beautiful Wildwood Cove.

The story starts out a bit in the middle, but in a good way. As events begin, Marley McKinney is taking a vacation from her job in Seattle by covering for her cousin Jimmy at his pancake place while Jimmy is recovering from pneumonia in the hospital. We don’t need to see Jimmy get sick or Marley go through her decision process about helping Jimmy out. By the time we meet Marley, she is starting to think about what she’ll do when Jimmy gets out of the hospital and back on his feet. And we see that the residents of Wildwood Cove and the regulars at The Flip Side have taken her into their hearts.

Jimmy is more her mother’s cousin than hers, and Marley has very, very fond memories of visiting Jimmy and his late wife, Grace, when Marley was young. After Grace’s death, the visits tapered off, but Marley and her mother still kept in touch with Jimmy. He was one of the few relatives they have left – and he seems to have been a really nice guy.

Past tense. Because the mystery that Marley takes it upon herself to solve is the mystery of who killed Jimmy, a man that nearly everyone in the small community seems to have loved. Jimmy’s death is tied into a second mystery – who stashed stolen goods in Jimmy’s generally unused shed?

As Marley pokes her nose into places it really doesn’t belong, we get to know the good people (and the bad people) of Wildwood Cove. While Marley spent her childhood summers here, the world has moved on and there are lots of new people in this little coastal town. Some of whom are lovely, and some of whom are, as the old saying goes, “no better than they ought to be” but in different ways.

Marley is left trying to pick through the pieces of what Jimmy left behind, and what Jimmy might have been into that could have caused his death. When the news gets out that Marley inherits both the house and the restaurant, the buzzards start circling. Some want the house, some want the business, and some just want to take back anything incriminating that might be left in Jimmy’s house.

It’s up to Marley to help the police figure out which of the many frightening events, home invasions and business break-ins have to do with Jimmy’s death and which are just their own separate nastiness.

All the while trying to figure out what her own future should be. Should she keep the home and business she has come to love – even though she knows nothing about running a restaurant and has a life back in Seattle? Or should she go back to the city, knowing that she is leaving her heart behind/

And will she have to die before she gets everything figured out?

Escape Rating B+: I think this may be one of those series where if you fall in love with the people and the place, it just works. Wildwood Cove feels like a nice place to visit, and I wouldn’t mind living there. But like every small town, at least in fiction, not every person is a gem and not everyone is someone you would want as your neighbor.

Marley is an interesting heroine because her life is completely in flux. The longer she stays at Jimmy’s and runs The Flip Side for him the more she sees how hollow and lonely her life is in Seattle. She has few connections back in the city that she misses or that miss her, while in Wildwood Cove nearly everyone has become connected to her, through the pancake house if not in other ways. She’ll be missed when she goes back to the city.

Jimmy’s death changes her life. Not just because she feels compelled to investigate that death, but because Jimmy leaves her his house, his restaurant, and most of his rather significant accumulated savings. He knew that Wildwood Cove was where her heart belonged, and he gave her enough resources to make that very nebulous dream come true. She feels both incredibly grateful and terribly guilty. She always cared, but didn’t see nearly as much of him as she feels she should have. Especially now that he is gone.

Those childhood summers were clearly the highlight of her life. It feels like the icing on a very yummy cake when her childhood crush turns up at her door, all grown up and much, much handsomer than she imagined he could grow up to be. And he’s a big part of her dilemma. She wants the chance to explore what they might have as adults, but giving up her life in Seattle for a whole lot of uncertainties is a big step that she quite reasonably isn’t ready to take, especially in the midst of all the upheaval.

Again, on my other hand, the sheer number and depth of the tragedies that Marley experienced in her past felt a bit like “piling on”. They felt over-the-top and they didn’t seem to be a big part of the baggage she was carrying, at least for the depth of the tragedies. But it may be a building block for the next book. We’ll see.

And then there’s the mystery. Or rather, mysteries. Jimmy was murdered. There has been a rash of home invasion robberies up and down the coast, and some of the stolen goods were stashed in Jimmy’s shed. Someone breaks into The Flip Side after hours, and there are multiple break-ins at Jimmy’s house. Some of this rash of crimes is probably connected, but which parts?

Although Jimmy was almost universally liked, there’s a difference between almost and universally. His neighbor wanted to drive him out of his house, so he can bulldoze it and turn it into another post-modern monstrosity. Jimmy’s supposed ex-ladyfriend wants to strip the house of all of Jimmy’s valuables that aren’t nailed down. And someone is trying to run Marley off the road, out of business and out of town.

Figuring out which crimes are connected and which are coincidental keeps the reader, and Marley, guessing until the very end. And that’s a great thing for a mystery. I am very, very curious to see how Marley and this series get on in book 2, For Whom the Bread Rolls.

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Review: The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty Wingate

Review: The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty WingateThe Bluebonnet Betraya (Potting Shed Mystery, #5) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #5
Pages: 294
Published by Alibi on August 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Bestselling author Marty Wingate “plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice,” raves Mary Daheim. Now Wingate’s inimitable gardening heroine, Pru Parke, is importing a precious bloom from Texas—and she won’t let a vicious murder stop her.   Pru’s life in England is coming full circle. A Texas transplant, she’s married to the love of her life, thriving in the plum gardening position she shares with her long-lost brother, and prepping a Chelsea Flower Show exhibit featuring the beloved bluebonnets of the Texas hill country. Technically, Twyla Woodford, the president of a gardening club in the Lone Star State, is in charge of the London event, but Pru seems to be the one getting her hands dirty. When they finally do meet, Pru senses a kindred spirit—until Twyla turns up dead.   Although Twyla’s body was half buried under a wall in their display, Pru remains determined to mount a spectacular show. Twyla would have insisted. So Pru recruits her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, to go undercover and do a bit of unofficial digging into Twyla’s final hours. If Pru has anything to say about it, this killer is going to learn the hard way not to mess with Texas.

My Review:

Another garden, another dead body. In real life, I think that people would be just a bit afraid to hire Pru Parke. She’s an excellent gardener with a top-notch reputation in her field, but wherever she plants her spade, a corpse pops up.

No Man's land at Chelsea Flower Show 2014 By muffinn - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwf2005/14281586381/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33304732
No Man’s land at Chelsea Flower Show 2014 By muffinn

In this fifth outing in the Potting Shed series, Pru is planting her spade in the illustrious and internationally renowned Chelsea Flower Show. It’s the kind of opportunity that no gardener could possibly refuse, even if it’s only for a few days until the real crew arrives in London. A crew coming from Pru’s former home state of Texas.

That’s Pru’s connection to the group. Someone in the Austin Rocks Garden Society (ARGS!) remembers Pru from her days in Texas, and asks her to keep an eye on their Chelsea entry until their über-organized garden club president arrives on the scene. Only to promptly get murdered in the middle of the barely-started display.

Pru finds herself and puts herself in the thick of things yet again. With their fearless leader out of the picture, the somewhat shattered ARGS members turn to Pru to keep their disaster-prone entry on track. And Pru, as usual, can’t resist attempting to solve the murder. In spite of a whole lot of stonewalling by the police Inspector who takes the case. He’s one of Pru’s husband Christopher’s former sergeants, and the position he has is Christopher’s former job. He feels the need to prove himself at any cost, including ignoring the sage advice of both his former boss and that boss’s intrepid new spouse.

So Pru sticks her nose into the investigation in spite of being warned off at every turn. And Christopher goes undercover among the garden assistants, partly to help Pru investigate, but mostly to keep that investigation from putting Pru into deadly danger, as her investigations usually do.

But Pru rushes in where angels and sensible people would rightly fear to tread. As usual. And the killer very nearly catches her.

Escape Rating B+: This series is always a real treat for both cozy mystery fans and gardening mystery fans. For anyone who is a fan of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series, the frequent references to Pru’s gardening past in Texas should make those readers feel right at home.

And for those who are new to this series, unlike most cozies this is not a series where the cast of players continues from one book to the next. Except for Christopher, almost everyone in this book is new to Pru Parke and her world. Pru is always going from one garden to another, and has new assistants and new plants to work with in every book, as well as new murders to solve.

Every trick in the rook by marty wingatePart of the fun in this particular entry is the peek behind the scenes at the famous Chelsea Flower Show. I saw a bit of it once on a trip to London, and it is a sight not to be missed if one is there at the right time. It is the ultimate flower festival, and even for someone with a black thumb (like me) the displays are beyond beautiful.

One of the other things that makes this particular mystery interesting is the scientific aspect both to the display that is being created and to the crime. There are some thought-provoking points made about the use and purposes of scientific advancement in agriculture and ecology. The questions about whether the ends justify the particular means linger after the mystery is solved.

The Potting Shed is a terrific series and I sincerely hope there will be more to come. In the meantime, the author’s other cozy series, Birds of a Feather, will be continuing with Every Trick in the Rook in January.

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Review: Maggie Dove by Susan Breen

Review: Maggie Dove by Susan BreenMaggie Dove: A Mystery by Susan Breen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery
Pages: 236
Published by Alibi on June 14th 2016
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Susan Breen introduces a charming new series heroine in this poignant and absorbing cozy mystery with a bite. Maggie Dove thinks everyone in her small Westchester County community knows everyone else’s secrets. Then murder comes to town.
When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.

My Review:

If this cozy mystery were any cozier, it would knit itself a sweater. Or perhaps crochet an afghan. And as much as I occasionally love a good cozy (Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed AND Birds of a Feather series for example) this one just didn’t work for me.

In spite of the contemporary setting, there’s something slightly old-fashioned about both the heroine and the story. Although the story isn’t strictly first person singular, it is definitely written from protagonist Maggie Dove’s point of view. And a lot of the time her point of view is small and self-absorbed.

I don’t mean that Maggie is vain or egotistical. But her daughter died 20 years ago in an automobile accident, and Maggie has isolated herself in her house and her small town and her grief, and hasn’t ever moved on. Neither has her daughter’s boyfriend Peter, who was luckily thrown from that car all those years ago.

Peter is now the Assistant Police Chief, and in very big trouble. First a hated villager dies on Maggie’s lawn. Then a beloved old woman, and Maggie’s best friend, dies in a nursing home, both of the same cause – an overdose of Ecstasy that Peter has easy access to. And a substance that has gotten him in trouble before.

Maggie finally shakes herself out of her 20 year depression in order to prove Peter’s innocence, because he’s too sunk into his own morass of despond to take care of his own business his own self. But then that’s part of what his and Maggie’s functions are in each other’s lives. They take care of each other and they keep the memory of the late, lamented Juliet alive. So that neither of them has to move on.

Until Maggie is forced to make an irrevocable choice – either to surrender to the same forces that brought her best friend down, or to step forward and finally make something of the rest of her life.

Escape Rating C: This book is very slow going, right up until the end, then it’s a race for the finish. It’s also very clearly the setup for a series, as Maggie takes the entire book to make us wallow in her grief and passivity, introduce us to her town and her friends (and frenemies) and finally, finally get up and move on.

Maggie is a terribly nice person, but she also congratulates herself on her niceness just a bit too much, and beats herself up unmercifully when she acts or even merely feels human.

Also, part of Maggie’s persona and her self-judgement revolves around her faith and her attachment to her church and its activities. She’s been a Sunday School teacher there for years, and that has clearly provided a sense of stability and a circle of friends. Her faith is very important to her, and she thinks about it often. So often, in fact, that readers who are not expecting this story to have an inspirational tinge to it may wonder what they have wandered into.

But about the mystery. One of the things that is done well in this story is to peel back all the layers of everyone in this small town. No one is quite what they appear to be, and Maggie has been oblivious to much of what lies beneath the surface for many years. The investigation that she throws herself into is a big and much needed wake up call.

As far as the murderer goes, the author manages to scatter an entire net full of red herrings, and I did nibble at most of them. In the end, I figured out whodunnit right about the same time Maggie did, and only because there were no other suspects left. The author leads us readers on quite the chase. The last 10% wraps things up at a furious pace as Maggie and the reader finally see what has been successfully hiding in plain sight all along.

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
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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.