Book Review: Death on Nantucket by Francine Mathews @FMathewsAuthor @soho_press

Death on Nantucket
A Merry Folger Nantucket Mystery #5
Francine Mathews
Soho Crime, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-737-7
Hardcover

Spencer Murphy is a Pulitzer prize winning foreign correspondent. The book that won him his fame tells of his escape from captivity in Laos during the Vietnam war. He made millions on his books and television appearances in subsequent years. But he is sinking into dementia, and is reported missing by his family.

He lives alone is a big house in Nantucket with only a housekeeper who comes in during the day. His adopted daughter Nora, who has been living in Asia, turns up for a visit and is discovered dead a month later on the rooftop deck. Spencer’s two sons, David and Elliot, haven’t heard from their sister in years, David is a recently divorced lawyer who continually criticizes his twenty-something daughter Laney.

Elliot and his partner Andre are the target of homophobic barbs from David and occasionally even from Spencer when his dementia tightens
its grip.

When Nora’s body is discovered, police detective Merry Folger investigates. It’s either suicide or an accident, the preliminary investigation shows. Nora has ingested enough apricot seeds in a cup of coffee that she died of cyanide poisoning. Merry’s boss is still convinced that it’s not murder, and he seems to have it in for her—after all, his predecessors as chief of police were Merry’s father and grandfather. Also, It’s high tourist season Nantucket with thousands of drunken college students invading the island and the police force is spread thin. But before the investigation concludes, there’s another death in the family and there’s no doubt that this time it’s murder.

Not quite a locked room mystery but a traditional mystery with a limited pool of suspects. There’s an abundance of description and backstory, sometimes too much, and it slows down the plot. While the culprit is discovered, there are enough red herrings and smart plotting to make it a surprise. It’s the fifth book in the series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2020.

Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind
A Jesse Stone Novel #17
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-57494-8
Hardcover

One would not expect racial unrest in the sleepy town of Paradise, MA, but Jesse Stone and his cops have their hands full.  To begin with, a black woman is assaulted in a neighboring town and it is made to look like a murder that occurred in Paradise years before.  The woman was in a relationship with a white man, and unfortunately she dies.  Then another black female, Alisha, who Jesse hired for diversity purposes, responds to a call at a bar and is taunted by bikers.  She also has a relationship with a white man.  Soon, however, things get worse.

A cross is burned on the lawn of Jesse’s old house, which was bought by a couple, a white woman and a dark Indian man, with two children.  Apparently the fire was set with kerosene, and a check of places where it could have been bought turns up a CCTV image.  When Alisha spots the person captured in the CCTV as she emerges from a bar, legally over the limit, she chases him into a blind alley and responds to what she believes is a shot by shooting and killing him.

It turns out that the victim is the son of a strident agitator seeking to incite a race war.  Of course, a black cop killing a white person is the perfect excuse.  Especially when the investigation turns up no weapon by or near the victim.  Jesse to the rescue.  As a side story, Jesse now is abstaining from alcohol and is attending AA meetings.

Mr. Coleman continues to live up to the standards set by Robert B. Parker in this latest addition to the Jesse Stone series, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Book Review: Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle—and a Giveaway!

Idyll Hands
A Thomas Lynch Novel #3
Stephanie Gayle
Seventh Street Books,
ISBN 978-1-63388-482-3
Trade Paperback

Not to mince words, this is an excellent novel. The story travels between 1972 in Charleston, Massachusetts, and 1999 in Idyll, Connecticut. In its emotional beginning, Susan, the sixteen-year-old sister of a new policeman, Michael Finnegan, is running away from home, at least for a few days. Why, we don’t know for sure.

Twenty-six years later, in a town not far from Charleston, the new chief of police in Idyll, Connecticut, named Thomas Lynch, is confronted with allergies and the preserved bone of an unknown woman or girl, the cops in that town have named Colleen. The bone is from a body unknown and unnamed found years earlier.

And so the story begins. As it unfolds, Michael Finnegan, now an experienced detective and his boss, Chief Lynch, working together and separately, among the small force of law enforcement people, confront questions of other missing young women. And throughout the novel, the hard loss of Finnegan’s still missing sister is always present.

In carefully measured chapters, the search for the woman found in the grave in Idyll is laid out and the detectives draw ever closer to the murderer. At the same time, detective Finnegan continues to pick away at random small clues to the enduring mystery of his sister’s disappearance.

Scenes are carefully and sometimes elaborately described; the pace of the novel is intense, and readers will be treated to a small cadre of police individuals whose emotional investments in their careers are carefully laid out, along with the civilian sides of life. Readers will also be treated to an interesting look at the process of crime detection in this town where the authorities are anything but idle.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name will

be drawn on Thursday night, May 9th.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Below the Tree Line by Susan Oleksiw

Below the Tree Line
A Pioneer Valley Mystery #1
Susan Oleksiw
Midnight Ink, September 2018
Trade Paperback

Felicity O’Brien has taken over her father’s farm, raising vegetables and fostering a few sheep to pay her dad’s way in an assisted living facility. Occasionally, a logger (timberer?) comes in and thins the forest that grows on the farm’s poor soil. But just lately, Felicity, who lives alone except for her cat, has become aware of someone, or something, coming around at night, digging holes and snooping. Jeremy Colson, with whom she has a relationship, has his own business to run and isn’t always there to provide backup. And then two women are killed in separate occurrences, one just outside Felicity’s house in a car wreck, and one found dead on Felicity’s land. Both deaths are suspicious, and since she⏤or her land⏤seems to be involved, she feels called upon to investigate. If she doesn’t, she may be the next to die.

There’s an interesting premise for the motivation of this crime, which I’ll leave for the reader to discover for her/himself. But I’ll tell you what threw me for a loop, and it’s nothing that concerns the story itself, which is well-written, interesting, and moves along well. But who knew that in Massachusetts logging is evidently called timbering, and the log itself is called a timber? In my neck of the woods, harvesting the timber is called logging, upon which the cut timber becomes logs. I have to say the nomenclature threw me off every time and I found myself distracted. But that’s just me.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Body in the Casket by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the Casket
A Faith Fairchild Mystery #24
Katherine Hall Page
William Morrow, December 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-243956-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

For most of her adult life, resourceful caterer Faith Fairchild has called the sleepy Massachusetts village of Aleford home. While the native New Yorker has come to know the region well, she isn’t familiar with Havencrest, a privileged enclave, until the owner of Rowan House, a secluded sprawling Arts and Crafts mansion, calls her about catering a weekend house party.

Producer/director of a string of hit musicals, Max Dane—a Broadway legend—is throwing a lavish party to celebrate his seventieth birthday. At the house as they discuss the event, Faith’s client makes a startling confession. “I didn’t hire you for your cooking skills, fine as they may be, but for your sleuthing ability. You see, one of the guests wants to kill me.”

Faith’s only clue is an ominous birthday gift the man received the week before—an empty casket sent anonymously containing a twenty-year-old Playbill from Max’s last, and only failed, production—Heaven or Hell. Consequently, Max has drawn his guest list for the party from the cast and crew. As the guests begin to arrive one by one, and an ice storm brews overhead, Faith must keep one eye on the menu and the other on her host to prevent his birthday bash from becoming his final curtain call.

Full of delectable recipes, brooding atmosphere, and Faith’s signature biting wit, The Body in the Casket is a delightful thriller that echoes the beloved mysteries of Agatha Christie and classic films such as Murder by Death and Deathtrap.

If you’re ever on the lookout for a gentle yet lightly adventurous cozy series, this is it and the newest episode adds a dollop of fun by presenting a scenario very reminiscent of the boardgame (and movie) Clue. The Body in the Casket is a bit of a featherweight compared to some of the other books in the series—more time is spent on the lives and times of various continuing characters in and around Aleford than on the actual mystery—but it still offers a few hours of pure pleasure.

Faith has never catered a weekend-long house party before but she’s intrigued by the prospect and even more so by Max Dane’s conviction that one of his guests intends to kill him. He’s not sure who it is but he knows the potential killer is someone connected to the last musical he produced; it’s up to Faith to figure out who before the deed can be done.

A few sidestories add even more interest to the core tale, such as a fight to keep a developer from tearing down an historic building and a couple of romantic issues but, as always, it’s Faith’s sleuthing and her scrumptious food that held my attention. The identity of the killer wasn’t much of a surprise but that was okay with me as I quite enjoyed my time with Faith & company.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from
The Body in the Casket

Chapter One

“Have Faith in Your Kitchen,” Faith Fairchild said, answering the phone at her catering firm. She’d been busy piping choux pastry for éclairs onto a baking sheet.

“Mrs. Fairchild?”

“Yes? This is Faith Fairchild. How may I help you?”

“Please hold for Max Dane.” The voice had a plummy, slightly British tone, reminiscent of Jeeves, or Downton Abbey’s Carson. The only Max Dane Faith had heard of had been a famous Broadway musical producer, but she was pretty sure he’d died years ago. This must be another Max Dane.

She was put through quickly and a new voice said, “Hi. I know this is short notice, but I am very much hoping you are available to handle a house party I’m throwing for about a dozen guests at the end of the month. A Friday to Sunday. Not just dinner, but all the meals.”

Faith had never catered anything like this. A Friday to Sunday sounded like something out of a British pre-World War II country house novel—kippers for breakfast, Fortnum & Mason type hampers for the shoot, tea and scones, drinks and nibbles, then saddle of lamb or some other large haunch of meat for dinner with vintage clarets followed by port and Stilton—for the men only. She was intrigued.

“The first thing I need to know is where you live, Mr. Dane. Also, is this a firm date? We’ve had a mild winter so far, but January may still deliver a wallop like last year.”

A Manhattan native, Faith’s marriage more than 20 years ago to the Reverend Thomas Fairchild meant a radical change of address— from the Big Apple to the orchards of Aleford, a small suburb west of Boston. Faith had never become used to boiled dinners, First Parish’s rock hard pews and most of all, New England weather. By the end of the previous February there had been 75 inches of snow on the ground and you couldn’t see through the historic parsonage’s ground floor windows or open the front door. Teenage son Ben struggled valiantly to keep the back door clear, daily hewing a path to the garage. The resulting tunnel resembled a clip from Nanook of the North.

“I’m afraid the date is firm. The thirtieth is my birthday. A milestone one, my seventieth.” Unlike his butler or whoever had called Faith to the phone, Max Dane’s voice indicated he’d started life in one of the five boroughs. Faith was guessing the Bronx. He sounded a bit sheepish when he said “ my birthday,” as if throwing a party for himself was out of character. “And I live in Havencrest. It’s not far from Aleford, but I’d want you to be available at the house the whole time. Live in.”

Leaving her family for three days was not something Faith did often, especially since Sunday was a workday for Tom and all too occasionally Saturday was as he “polished” his sermon. (His term, which she had noticed over the years, could mean writing the whole thing.)

Ben and Amy, two years younger, seemed old enough to be on their own, but Faith had found that contrary to expectations, kids needed parents around more in adolescence than when they were toddlers. Every day brought the equivalent of scraped knees and they weren’t the kind of hurts that could be soothed by Pat The Bunny and a chocolate chip cookie. She needed more time to think about taking the job. “I’m not sure I can leave my family…” was interrupted. “I quite understand that this would be difficult,” Dane said and then he named a figure so far above anything she had ever been offered that she actually covered her mouth to keep from gasping out loud.

“Look,” he continued. “Why don’t you come by and we’ll talk in person? You can see the place and decide then.  I don’t use it myself, but the kitchen is well equipped—the rest of the house too. I’ll email directions and you can shoot me some times that work. This week if possible. I want to send out the invites right away.”

Well, it wouldn’t hurt to talk, Faith thought. And she did like seeing other people’s houses. She agreed, but before she hung up curiosity won out and she asked, “Are you related to the Max Dane who produced all those wonderful Broadway musicals?”

“Very closely. As in one and the same. See you soon.”

Faith put the phone down and turned to Pix Miller, her closest friend and part-time Have Faith employee.

“That was someone wanting Have Faith to cater a weekend long birthday celebration—for an astonishing amount of money.” She named the figure in a breathless whisper. “His name is Max Dane. Have you ever heard of him?”

“Even I know who Max Dane is. Sam took me to New York the December after we were married and we saw one of his shows. It was magical—the whole weekend was. No kids yet. We were kids ourselves. We skated at Rockefeller Center by the tree and…”

Her friend didn’t go in for sentimental journeys and tempted as she was to note Pix and Sam skated on Aleford Pond then and now, Faith didn’t want to stop the flow of memories. “Where did you stay? A suite at the Plaza?” Sam was a very successful lawyer.

Pix came down to earth. “We barely had money for the show and pre-theater dinner at Twenty-One. That was the big splurge. I honestly can’t remember where we stayed and I should, because that’s where—” She stopped abruptly and blushed, also unusual Pix behavior.

“Say no more. Nine months later along came Mark?”

“Something like that,” Pix mumbled and then in her usual more assertive voice, added “You have to do this. Not because of the money, although the man must be loaded! Think of who might be there. And the house must be amazing. We don’t have anything booked for then and I can keep an eye on the kids.”

The Millers lived next door to the parsonage and their three now grown children had been the Fairchilds’ babysitters. Pix played a more essential role: Faith’s tutor in the unforeseen intricacies of childrearing as well as Aleford’s often arcane mores. Faith’s first social faux pas as a new bride—inviting guests for dinner at eight o’clock— had happily been avoided when her first invite, Pix, gently told Faith the town’s inhabitants would be thinking bed soon at that hour, not a main course.

Faith had started her catering business in the city that never slept before she was married and was busy all year long. Here January was always a slow month for business. The holidays were over and things didn’t start to pick up until Valentine’s Day—and even then scheduling events was risky. It all came down to weather.

Pix was at the computer. Years ago she’d agreed to work at Have Faith keeping the books, the calendar, inventory—anything that did not involve any actual food preparation.

“We have a couple of receptions at the Ganley Museum and the MLK breakfast the standing clergy host.”

The first time Faith heard the term, “standing clergy”, which was the town’s men and women of any cloth, she pictured an upright somberly garbed group in rows like ninepins. And she hadn’t been far off.

“That’s pretty much it,” Pix added,  “except for a few luncheons and Amelia’s baby shower—I think she baby sat for you a couple of times when she was in high school.”

“I remember she was very reliable, “Faith said.

“ Hard to believe she’s the same age as Samantha and having her second!” Pix sounded wistful. She was the type of woman born to wear a “I Spoil My Grandchildren” tee shirt. Faith wouldn’t be surprised if there were a drawer somewhere in the Miller’s house filled with tiny sweaters and booties knit by Pix, “just to be ready.” Mark Miller, the oldest, was married, but he and his wife did not seem to be in a rush to start a family.

Samantha, the middle Miller, had a long-term beau, Caleb. They were living together in trendy Park Slope, Brooklyn and Sam, an old-fashioned pater familias, had to be restrained from asking Caleb his intentions each time the young couple came to Aleford. Pix was leaning that way herself, she’d told Faith recently, noting that young couples these days were so intent on careers they didn’t hear the clock ticking.

Faith had forgotten that Amelia—who apparently had paid attention to time— was Samantha’s age and quickly changed the subject to what was uppermost in her mind—the Dane job. “Where is Havencrest?” she asked. “I thought I knew all the neighboring towns.”

“It’s not really a town so much as an enclave between Weston and Dover. I don’t think it even has a zip code. I’ve never been there, but Mother has. You can ask her about it. The houses all date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I believe there’s a gatehouse at the entrance. It’s an early equivalent of the mid century modern planned communities like Moon Hill in Lexington. Havencrest wasn’t a bunch of architects like that one though. Just very rich Boston Brahmin families who wanted privacy and plenty of space. I wonder how Max Dane ended up there? From what Mother has said, the houses don’t change hands, just generations.”

“I think I’ll check my email and see if there’s anything from him yet,” Faith said. “And maybe drop by to see Ursula on my way home.” Stopping to visit with Ursula Lyman Rowe, Pix’s mother, was no chore. The octogenarian was one of Faith’s favorite people. She turned back to the éclairs, which were part of a special order, and added a few more to bring to her friend.

“I know you’ll take the job,” Pix said. “I’m predicting the weekend of a lifetime!”

————

Excerpt from The Body in the Casket by Katherine Hall Page.  Copyright © 2017 by William Morrow. Reproduced with permission from William Morrow. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-three previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic, she has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Macavity Award. She lives in Massachusetts, and Maine, with her husband.

Catch Up With Our Author On:

Website // Facebook // Goodreads

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

There will be 3 winners of one (1) physical
copy each of Katherine Hall Page’s
The Body in the Casket. The giveaway
begins on December 4, 2017

and runs through January 17, 2018.

Enter here.

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Book Reviews: See Also Deception by Larry D. Sweazy and Called to Justice by Edith Maxwell

See Also Deception
A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery #2
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-127-3
Trade Paperback

I’ve read recommendations to read the first book of this series, See Also Murder, before starting the second. While I’d be happy to get my hands on the introductory book, I had no problem catching up with Marjorie Trumaine and her husband, Hank.

Set in the North Dakota of 1964, Marjorie is a farm wife whose husband has been paralyzed and blinded in a hunting accident. But just to show a farm wife should never be underestimated, she is also an indexer for a prestigious publisher of scholastic books , a job requiring strenuous attention to detail. Most of all, she’s Hank’s loving caregiver. Let’s not end there. In the first book, Marjorie solved a series of murders, and now, her suspicions are aroused when she receives news her friend, the local librarian, has been found dead, an apparent suicide. Marjorie can’t believe it.

Things don’t add up, in Marjorie’s opinion, although the sheriff and his deputy refuse to listen to her doubts about Calla’s death. Then things begin happening to Marjorie, and her worries about Hank grow. He, he says, wants to die. She cannot bear to let him go.

At last there is another death, this one clearly murder, and the authorities finally begin to believe Marjorie’s claim that Calla was murdered. Predictably, she may well be the next slated to die.

This story is much more than a murder mystery, although it is, and it’s a good one. But it’s also a look back at the sixties, historical for some, nostalgic for other readers. It is a story of a woman’s love. Of her fortitude, and her strength. I found Marjorie Trumaine a truly worthy heroine and human being.

The writing is strong, yet sensitive. The story fast-paced. See Also Deception is one of the best books I’ve read this year, not perhaps surprising as Mr. Sweazy has won many well-deserved national awards for his stories, including Western Writers of America’s Spur Award.

And the ending? Well, it’s sure to yank your heartstrings, and if you’re like me, you’ll be waiting impatiently for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October, 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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Called to Justice
A Quaker Midwife Mystery
Edith Maxwell
Midnight Ink Books, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5032-3
Trade Paperback

This historical mystery, set twenty years after the Civil War, realistically portrays how even Northerners and Union veterans were quick to point fingers and proclaim guilt due to the color of one’s skin.

Rose Carroll is a Quaker and a midwife. Her patients are from all walks of life, Quaker or not. A young woman named Hannah Breed has come to Rose because she’s pregnant. Hannah works in the local mill and is not only a fellow Quaker, but a friend of Rose’s sister. Hannah is unmarried and frightened. With good cause, as it turns out, because she is shot and killed during the local Fourth of July celebration. Was it an accident or was it murder? Whichever, a finger soon points at a freed slave, Akwasi Ayensu, who is also a Quaker and Rose’s friend. Even Rose’s good friend, Officer Guy Gilbert who is under pressure to quickly solve the case, accepts meager false proof of Akwasi’s guilt. Determined to prove Akwasi’s innocence, Rose will also be in danger as this mystery plays out.

I very much enjoyed learning about the Quaker beliefs, as well as midwifery as practiced in the late 1800s.  The mystery itself is well done, with plenty of false trails and twists. The novel is set in Amesbury, Massachusetts, the home of fellow Quaker and poet John Greenleaf Whittier who also plays a part in the story. Authenticity shows the research author Edith Maxwell has put to good use.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #1
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-096-9
Hardcover

In Elementary, She Read, author Delany introduces quite an interesting set of characters along with a new twist on mysteries set in bookshops. While Gemma Doyle is the protagonist of this new series, the history behind the story begins when Gemma’s Great Uncle Arthur seized the opportunity to buy a building at the famous address of 222 Baker Street- though this Baker Street is located in West London, Massachusetts rather than London, England. With such a well known address, it was a given that her mystery loving uncle would open a Sherlock Holmes bookstore.  When he found a bookstore alone wouldn’t make it, he expanded to include any and all things pertaining to Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, the opportunity arose to open a tea shop, named appropriately Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, next door but connected by an internal door. That shop is run by Gemma’s good friend Jayne. That is the story behind the story.

In a nutshell, the main plot of Elementary, She Read is this. The store is swamped one afternoon by a traveling bridge group, and while tidying the store after the group has left, Gemma finds an old Strand magazine that is not part of the store’s inventory hidden among the other magazines. Curious as to how it came to be there, she thinks back over the people who had just left the store and remembers one lady who was carrying a plain white plastic shopping bag that did not appear to be part of the group. She searches the store, finds the bag the woman was carrying and in it found a clue as to where the woman might be staying. Puzzled as to why the woman left what could well be a valuable magazine in the store, she puts the magazine to her home safe and sets off to find the woman. From there the plot follows a familiar path of amateur sleuths. Gemma tries to do the right thing and ends up finding a dead body or two and lands in the middle of a police investigation as a prime suspect. Eager to clear her name she starts snooping around trying to solve the murder, as well as unravel the original mystery as to why the magazine was placed in her store. The plot is well done with plenty of twists to keep readers on their toes. When the solution was finally revealed, I have to say I had figured out that the guilty person was involved but had not worked out how or why. I felt like Delany played fair with the readers by giving them clues to follow yet making the puzzle complicated enough to keep us working at it.

Readers don’t see much of Uncle Arthur in the book, and I hope that changes as the series moves forward. He seems to be a character ripe for development. Gemma is a great protagonist and has the eye for noticing details like Sherlock himself. There is a book about thinking like Sherlock mentioned several times throughout the book. The book actually exists (I checked on Amazon) and I plan on getting a copy. Readers get to know Jayne a bit but I suspect we’ll get a better read on her in future books. There were a couple of “villains” among the characters giving readers people to despise. One was a police woman who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Gemma, while the other was a fellow shopkeeper who has the need to control everyone else’s business. I’m sure we’ll get more of them as well.

There are the standard animals in the book-Gemma’s pet dog and the store’s resident cat who seems to like everyone except Emma.

Elementary, She Read is a wonderful beginning to what I hope is a long running series.

I volunteered to read and review this book which I received from the publisher.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, February 2017.