by Cynthia Chow
& Denise Swanson
This week we have a review of Denise’s new Devereaux Dime Store mystery along with a fun guest post from Denise about her inspiration for the Dime Store setting. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Dead Between the Lines.
Dead Between the Lines: A Devereaux’s Dime Store Mystery By Denise Swanson
Review by Cynthia Chow
It seemed like a good idea at the time. As the owner of Devereaux’s Dime Store and Gift Basket, Devereaux “Dev” Sinclair is always on the lookout for a way to promote her candies, curios and specialty gift baskets and push her struggling store into the black. Dev had her reservations about hosting the Stepping Out Book Club’s evening meeting, as it would require her to spend time away from her grandma Birdie, the very reason Dev returned to Shadow Bend, Missouri in the first place. The profit from selling books and refreshments are too much to resist though, and Dev and her OCD junior college assistant, Xylia Locke, prepare for the onslaught of twenty. Unfortunately, Dev had no way of knowing that the guest author, self-proclaimed poet Lance Quistgaard, would be an arrogant misogynist former local, with disdain for rural small towns and who ultimately manages to insult the club president, most of the members and Dev herself.
When Dev is called in the middle of the night to return to her store by Police Chief Eldridge Kincaid, estranged father of her best friend Poppy, Dev fears vandalism, fire or burglary–even a bomb. What she wasn’t expecting – although, considering her track record, she should have – was for Quistgaard to have been dumped in a cardboard box behind the store with a stake literally driven through his heart.
With evidence coming from inside her store, and unwilling to risk the loss of much-needed sales, Dev vows to protect her investment by investigating who dumped the body on her doorstep. It won’t be easy concentrating, though. Two major complications battle for her attention in the forms of the old high school boyfriend, whose loyalty to his mother in the past broke her heart, and the new federal agent, whose long-distance job and ex-wife may cause him to break it in the near future. Not to mention the eminent return of Dev’s father, who for years was unjustly imprisoned and whom she denounced for most of her life.
Readers familiar with Swanson’s Scumble River series will find themselves on familiar ground with much to enjoy. Crazy female relatives, a small town where everybody knows everybody else’s business, funny aphorisms and two men fighting over the Rubenesque heroine are common elements in both series. The romantic complications are as vital to the novels as the murders. When tragedy and scandal cost Dev both her parents it was Birdie who stepped in to take their place and now that her mental health is failing, Dev feels even more vulnerable to the risks in becoming involved with either of her two suitors. Dev’s justifiable confusion over the choices she should make in her life may be as frustrating for the reader as it must be all parties involved, and we can only hope that whatever decision she makes will be satisfying – and soon.
While readers will be enjoyably caught off guard by the surprisingly twist in the plot and few will be able to identify the murderer, it is Dev’s romantic plight that will keep them coming back for more.
Long Gone, but Not Forgotten
By Denise Swanson
Like a lot of writers, I look to my own experiences for inspiration. Often I’m inspired by something that has just recently happened to me, but other times, I draw from my past. For my new series, the Devereaux’s Dime Store mysteries, the setting came from my childhood. I grew up in the small Illinois town of Coal City. Its population was a smidge over three thousand, which meant there wasn’t a lot to do or very many places to do it, but my favorite spot, by far, was Hornsby’s Dime Store.
The metal spinner rack full of paperbacks was always my first stop. I spent nearly all my allowance and babysitting money on books from those shelves. And I still remember the thrill of buying my first “grown up” novel at age thirteen. It was a Harlequin romance called Palace of the Peacocks by Violet Winspear. I credit my desire to write to that spinner rack. And because of that the sleuth in my new Devereaux’s Dime Store series, Devereaux Sinclair, who creates gift baskets as a part of her store’s service, always places just the right book as the basket’s centerpiece. Since she designs both regular and spicy baskets, the books range from Norman Rockwell’s Spirit of America to the Kama Sutra.
Another part of Hornsby’s that fascinated me was the craft aisle. The colorful yarns and threads and flosses were so gorgeous that even though I didn’t knit, needlepoint, or crochet, I was a frequent browser. Devereaux goes one better at her store and has a crafting alcove where the local groups such as Blood, Sweat and Shears and the Knittie Gritties hold their meetings. In my newest book, Dead Between the Lines, a book club takes over this space and the guest speaker doesn’t make it out alive.
While my childhood store didn’t have either a soda fountain or a candy case, I gave my fictional dime store both. The idea of sitting on a stool at a marble counter and eating a hand dipped hot fudge sundae or selecting a homemade chocolate of the month made my mouth water, and I couldn’t resist allowing Devereaux and her customers that pleasure. Besides being the only place in town where you could buy a lot of items, Hornsby’s was also a gathering place for socializing. After school, the kids would hang out by the comic and magazine racks. Many first flirtations took place in that aisle. But since Devereaux’s Dime Store takes place in the modern world, she added Wi-Fi to attract the teenagers in her town (Shadow Bend, Missouri).
In fact, one of the things I enjoyed most about writing the Devereaux’s Dime Store mysteries is the juxtaposition of nostalgia and the twenty-first century. Dev is a thoroughly modern woman who loves technology, but also enjoys the simpler times that a true dime store represents. She worked for several years in the hardnosed field of investments before buying and renovating Shadow Bend’s dime store in order to spend more time with her aging grandmother.
However, like all good things, there’s always a catch. For Dev it’s the fact that her father went to prison for vehicular manslaughter (and was suspected of embezzling from the bank) when she was a teenager, and no one in the town can ever forget her family history. Then there’s another strike against her when it’s discovered that the owner of the investment firm she worked for was running a Ponzi scheme. But the last straw is when her high school boyfriend’s fiancée is murdered. That’s when the past really reared its ugly head.
To enter to win a copy of Dead Between the Lines, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Lines,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 8, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.