Reviewer Richard Mann: Richard is a retired CPA, college instructor, and paralegal in Ogden, Utah. He has published over 500 magazine articles and a commercially published e-book, including several book review columns in magazines. He loves to read mysteries, westerns, humor, selected non-fiction, and computer books. To read more from Richard check out his BLOG.
AUTHOR: Lucy Arlington
PUBLISHER: Berkley Prime Crime
This fifth entry in the popular Novel Ideas Mystery series, the second since author Susan Furlong took over the series from its pair of initial co-authors writing as Lucy Arlington, is another winner. I promise to stop hearkening back to the original co-authors in the future; Ms. Furlong has proven her mettle and is now the secure owner and proprietor of the Lucy Arlington franchise. In my experience, 99 percent of the time a new author takes over another author’s mystery series, the result is an unsatisfying shadow of the real thing. This instance, however, is the one percent exception that proves the rule. Susan Furlong’s two books in this series carry the characters and situations forward seamlessly and accurately. Her books might even be better than the first three. So…enough about that. We can all be happy that Ms. Furlong is now running the show.
And a show it is. If you work at a literary agency in the small North Carolina town of Inspiration Valley, one of the best ways to get a new cast of potential murderers and murder victims into town is to have an exposition or show. In the last two books we had a cookbook show and a combined gardening and cooking expo. In this one, it’s a wedding planning and bridal exposition set to take a week highlighting all aspects of wedding planning while showing off many of the agency’s best authors and books.
Lila Wilkins, the book’s viewpoint character, is one of the literary agents charged with organizing and running the event. She is also engaged to be married at some as-yet undetermined date in the near future to a local detective, Sean Griffiths. Their romance has been percolating through the previous four books and is now approaching its logical next step. Lila hopes to enjoy planning her own wedding as she learns from the many facets of the exposition.
Unfortunately, the characters in the book don’t know—as we readers certainly do—that there will soon be a murder. Sure enough, a local handyman with a reputation for shoddy work and a less-than-sterling character is offed by a nail-gun shot to the skull in the kitchen of the exposition hall. Lila, the poor dear, finds him while the fatal injury is still fresh.
As the plot unfolds, two of the agency’s authors become suspects. One, Lila’s new client whose first romance novel is soon to be released, is an abused ex-wife of the victim. The other author’s recent book describes a murder done with—you’ll never guess—a carpenter’s nail gun. What police detective could resist arresting her?
Our beloved cast of characters, familiar from the previous books, works through challenging, pleasant, and satisfying events in their lives interwoven with the emergence of new clues leading eventually to the real murderer. Making this happen is a real challenge to most authors. For the series to go on for many books, the characters need to move forward in their lives, endure happy and sad changes, and grow and develop. In some books from less talented authors, their efforts to do this get in the way of the real story and frustrate me. Often, I truly don’t care what’s going on with the sister or other relative, the best friend, or other peripheral character. It seems to be annoying filler. Not so here. Susan Furlong is a master at making us care about those characters.
Those who could be nominated for Best Supporting Character include Lila’s mother, who as The Amazing Althea reads tarot cards; Lila’s son Trey, who has a change of heart in his first year of college; best friend Makayla, the local barista, who is also planning her wedding; and the whole crew at the literary agency. There’s also an interesting bit of byplay with the agency’s big boss adopting a problem dog that upsets the agency’s long-time cat mascot and other more human folks.
The balance between these subplots and our primary concern, the murder, is exquisitely maintained such that we never notice that the author isn’t talking about the murder for a while. All of it is interesting, fresh, and natural. This balance is one of the hallmarks of a truly well-crafted story; it sets this story head and shoulders above most of the competition.
Then finally at the end, all of the disparate threads come together in a satisfying revelation of who done it. The solution of this story has a different feel from most cozy mysteries. I can’t tell you exactly why without spoiling the story for you, so you’ll have to take my word for it and maybe think about it a little when you get to that point in the story yourself. I can tell you that I really like the difference.
When I finished the book, I sat back with a sigh of happy satisfaction. How nice to learn what’s been going on with Lila, her family, and her friends. How nice to have a series of problems large and small solved with ingenuity and compassion. How nice to have the guilty securely in jail. How nice to know that in a year or so, there will be another installment in this series.
Get the book. Read it. Then you can share in that happy sigh of satisfaction at the end. What more could you ask?