by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a group of mysteries set in the world of books-3 bookstores and a library-Bound for Murder: A Blue Ridge Library Mystery by Victoria Gilbert, Verse and Vengeance: A Magical Bookshop Mystery by Amanda Flower, Bookmarked for Murder: Mystery Bookshop series by VM Burns, and There’s a Murder Afoot: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books, along with links you can use to purchase them. If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon links at the end of each review.
Bound for Murder: A Blue Ridge Library Mystery by Victoria Gilbert
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s turning out to be a busy end of the summer for the town of Taylorsford, Virginia. Their county fair full of cooking competitions is being held at the end of the month, library director Amy Webber is planning her upcoming wedding, and Amy’s BFF library assistant Sunny Fields has tossed her hat into the ring in the race for mayor. What threatens to derail all of these events is the discovery of decades-old bones found on the Vista View farm, owned by Sunny’s genial grandparents. During the 1960s Carol and P.J. Fields established a commune on their property, and now it seems as though one of their members may never have left that era of peace and free love. Utilizing the research skills that are Amy’s superpowers, she discovers that musician Jeremy Adams went missing in 1964, leaving his family with the belief that he had left town only to become an eventual victim of Los Angeles’s drug epidemic. Amy discovers that it is far more likely that Jeremy met a dire fate in Taylorsford, and that one of his less congenial communal neighbors was responsible for it.
As the current mayor enthusiastically spreads rumors implicating Sunny’s grandparents, pressure mounts to have the Fields arrested for the crime. Determined to prove them innocent and ensure that Sunny’s bid for mayor isn’t sabotaged, Amy delves into the era of hippies and flower children. A planned library event by a famous author who sprouted out of Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory not only adds to the nostalgic atmosphere, it brings possible clues to help Amy unravel a multitude of crimes. This becomes instrumental when the senior Fields asks for Amy’s help in tracking down their former commune residents, ostensibly to warn them about the official investigation that may stir up their former less-than-legal activities. Amy can’t help but be a little suspicious about their motives, especially when Amy receives a warning letter, threatening graffiti is carved into a library table, and seemingly accidental gunshots go off in the woods a little too close for comfort. Dealing with busybody suggestions for her wedding, even those from her socialite future mother-in-law, are almost welcome distractions for the stubborn library director.
It’s impossible to resist a mystery dedicated to librarians, archivists, and library assistants. In this fourth of the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series, Amy has settled in with yummy choreographer and professional dancer Richard Muir and seems intent on matching up Amy with a visiting investigative reporter. Amy’s Aunt Lydia is herself in a very happy relationship with Hugh Chen, allowing her to focus on creating the winning entry in the county fair’s pie-baking contest. These are all fun ingredients to an enjoyable cozy, library-centric novel, but it is the investigation into the past that propels the action and has Amy and her friends questioning suspects and stirring up the darker side of communal living. Amy’s friends and family coming together to both solve the crime and ensure her future happiness delivers the satisfying moments that make this series so rewarding, especially when it builds upon relationships that have been developed throughout the novels. That it celebrates librarians and libraries only makes it all the more special and catnip to book readers looking for their next literary-theme read.
Verse and Vengeance: A Magical Bookshop Mystery by Amanda Flower
Review by Sandra Murphy
Violet Waverly and her grandmother own Charming Books. It’s a magical place where the book you’re looking for, the book you don’t even know you need, will find you. Also, there’s Faulkner the crow and Emerson the cat. And a large birch tree, growing right up through the middle of the shop.
It’s the birch tree and the healing waters that make the place magical. Each generation has an appointed Caretaker. It’s time for Violet to take over for her grandmother. It’s a carefully guarded secret.
When a private investigator, Joel Redding, starts nosing around, following Violet, and taking photos, what else could he be after? Of course, he appears at the worst possible time. Grandmother, also the mayor, is raising money to build the Cascade Springs Underground Railroad Museum. The big event is the Tour de Cascade, a bicycle race.
When Redding dies during the race, it’s first thought to be an accident. However, it’s soon declared a murder and the list of suspects has Violet in the lead. Since the police chief is 1. her boyfriend, 2. has no idea about the shop’s magic, 3. doesn’t know Violet is the Caretaker – it’s an awkward situation. Add to that, another suspect is in hiding. She appears now and again to talk to Violet but vanishes before the police chief can arrive.
There’s a missing and reappearing necklace, construction on the museum is halted, Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass is popping up everywhere, another murder—it’s enough to make Violet’s head spin.
This is the fourth book in the series. Violet is at the “tell all or break off the relationship” stage with the chief. Confessing a tree has magical powers could send him running just as fast. Her grandmother is focusing more on being mayor, so Violet is kind of on her own this time. For twists and turns, false clues, and outright surprises, this book won’t disappoint readers who love the paranormal aspect.
Flowers is a most prolific writer with eight series and now, also writing for Hallmark. In addition to the Magical Bookshop series, there’s the newest Amish Matchmaker, plus the Amish Candy Shop series (5, reviewed here), Magic Garden mysteries (2, reviewed here), Living History Museum books (3, some reviewed), Andi Boggs mysteries (3), Appleseed Creek books (4), and the India Hayes mysteries (2).
Bookmarked for Murder: Mystery Bookshop series by VM Burns
Review by Cynthia Chow
For the residents of Shady Acre Retirement Village, an off-season four-day trip to Chicago was a bargain few could resist after the Christmas holiday. Hotel tea services, ballet performances, and of course, some power shopping are the attractions that have mystery bookstore owner Samantha Washington accompanying her grandmother and friends to the very chilly Windy City. Octogenarian Irma Starczewski is on board for the nightclubbing and flirtations, and succeeds in luring Max Franck for a free bus ride back to North Harbor. She would have preferred that he remain a little livelier though, as his passing away at a bus stop strands the group while the police conduct an investigation. Not only was Max Franck a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist, he had been accompanied by an obviously ineffectual bodyguard. Sam’s aspirations as a historical mystery writer has the Chicago Police Sergeant Luis Alvarez eying her suspiciously, and it’s the one time she misses having the incompetent North Harbor Detective “Stinky” Pitt lumbering onto the scene.
When another attack quickly results in the arrest of the suspected criminal, Sam can’t help but feel that everything has been wrapped up a little too neatly. This compels her into continuing her own investigation, and she is joined by an enthusiastic Nana Jo as they unravel the conspiracy theories that earned Max Franck so many awards. As the web of suspects and motives becomes more ensnarled and complicated, Sam retreats into her writing as an outlet for her subconscious. In Sam’s fictional world of 1938 England, Lady Elizabeth Marsh and her pregnant niece Lady Penelope are spending Boxing Day shopping at Harrods. It is while dining there that they meet a confused Eleanor Forsythe, who claims that “they” are trying to kill her just before a housekeeper arrives to whisk her away. Perhaps Mrs. Forsythe was not quite delusional though, as the next time they see her she has fallen to her death off of an escalator. As Sam explores both mysteries involving resentful relatives and hidden clues, she enjoys intermittent but delicious meals with North Harbor Café owner Frank Patterson, is ordered about by her toy poodles Oreo and Snickers, and hits the Four Feathers Casino. She is, of course, assisted by not just Nana Jo, but by Ruby Mae and her seemingly infinite number of relatives, nephews Zaq and Christopher, and the rest of the Shady Acre ladies.
This continues to be a deftly plotted mystery that integrates chapters of Sam’s fictional novel with the current-day mystery. Readers will find the fictional timelines of Lady Elizabeth and Sam to be equally compelling, especially since Sam works out her internal struggles through her writing. While she attempts to unravel the puzzle that was Max Franck, her characters in the 1930s entertainingly manipulate those dazzled by their titles and wealth. The witty dialogue of the British lords and ladies is matched by that of Nana Jo and her friends, ensuring that both contemporary and history mystery readers will be delighted. This two-in-one mystery satisfies on so many levels, with this fifth in the series being as fresh and unique as the first.
There’s a Murder Afoot: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany
Review by Cynthia Chow
The co-owner of the Sherlock Holmes bookshop and Emporium in West London, Massachusetts, Gemma Doyle is back in her native home of London to celebrate the 166th birthday of Sherlock Holmes. Accompanied by her boyfriend Ryan Ashburton and friends Jayne Wilson, Grant Thompson, and Donald Morris, Gemma will be a featured speaker at London’s Sherlock Holmes in the Modern World conference. The excuse of having to attend in order to also accept an award on behalf of her uncle allows Gemma to spend some much-needed time with her parents, not to mention her rather distant and prickly over-achieving sister Pippa. The one reunion Gemma didn’t expect was with Randolph Denhaugh, her mother’s brother and the uncle whom until now she didn’t know even existed. After having an argument with the black sheep member of the family, Gemma’s father Henry becomes the main suspect when Uncle Randy is found murdered, and a head-injured Henry has no memory of what happened.
When it becomes apparent that the investigating DI Morrison has a grudge against Henry Doyle and intends to run him straight into prison, Gemma decides that she has no choice but to take on the duties of proving her father’s innocence. While that means implementing her astounding observational skills to put together clues as to how her uncle’s past crimes may have followed him into the present, it also means dodging her very well-intentioned and protective friends. Surprising to everyone but the Doyle family, it is Pippa who proves to be the most instrumental in helping with the case, with her “minor clerical position” within the government providing eyebrow-raising security bypasses and confidential information. Assisted by her own Watson in the form of her business partner and baker Jayne, Gemma begins following the trail that reveals that Randolph’s theft of the family’s heirloom John Constable painting was only the beginning of his criminal career in the art world.
This fifth in the series continues to be a surprising and innovative delight that plays off of the expected mystery tropes. Gemma is a savant at delivering Sherlock-level observations and conclusions, but she spends even more time ensuring that West London police detective Ryan and their friends are distracted with London tourist activities while she investigates. While Jayne serves as the naïve and slightly too-trusting of humanity aide to Gemma, it is Pippa who emerges as the unexpected secret weapon of the novel. Deftly sidestepping questions about her job and just how she seems to have such high security access, Pippa is the perfect conspirator in Gemma’s unofficial investigation. Armchair travelers will also find so much to enjoy as the author describes not just the London sights but the tea, pastries, tea, breakfasts, and tea consumed by Gemma and her friends. Miscommunication between the upstart Americans and the UK are not just entertaining, they play a role in the thrilling conclusion. Sporadic phone calls that reveal the chaos ensuing back in the States and in her Emporium are not only hilarious, they promise that Gemma’s return to America will be as much putting out literal fires as it will be reveling in the place she is so happy to now call home. This series continues to evolve and find new ways to entertain with its clever plot twists, introduction of compelling new characters, and growth of the characters fans love.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “book mysteries,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 25, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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