Genre: Cozy Mystery
Rating: 2 stars
Two years ago, Abigail Sutton’s husband went out and vanished. Two years later, she learns he was killed. Grieving, she picks up the pieces of her life, resolves to becoming a full-time artist (at least until her saved up money is gone), and moves to a quaint small town. There, she buys an old farmhouse that once belonged to the late Edna Summers. As Abigail gets to know her new neighbors and develops a close friendship with retired police officer Frank Lester, she renovates the house. But as she digs through Edna’s history and works on the house, she discovers papers covered in children’s writings. After learning Edna’s sister, niece, and nephew spent a summer living with her before vanishing into the night, she stumbles on 3 graves. Are they the final resting places of Edna’s family? If so, how did they die, and is the person who did it still around and now after Abigail?
I love a good cozy mystery, with an intriguing mystery and a strong female detective. Unfortunately, this was not one of those. The mystery was simplistic, an obvious whodunit almost from the moment the mystery was introduced. Other possible murderers were thrown in as red herrings, but none of them were very plausible and, from the way they were treated, I got the sense Abigail and Frank didn’t see them as particularly likely either. However, the children seeming to haunt Abigail to get their mystery solved was a nice touch and added a little suspense to a lackluster mystery.
The characters were also a letdown. They were little more than caricatures of the sort of people you might find in a small town. There’s the handsome widowed man for Abigail to fall for, the town crazy lady (who is, admittedly, probably the most interesting character because she is the town crazy lady), the reporter who pokes her nose in everything, the recluse, etc. If the stereotype exists, it’s in this book. The dialogue didn’t help much. Instead of serving to help highlight difference between the characters, everyone but Abigail seemed to have the same speech style, talking in fragments and seeming more contrived than authentic. The really annoying part was that this could also be found in the narrative. However, the developing friendship between Abigail and Frank was nice, starting off slow, but you can tell they like each other. The other interactions Abigail has did not come off as this charming. Instead, they felt contrived and inauthentic, serving only to give Abigail some tidbit she would later need.
Overall, the whole book was just too…contrived, and formulaic. The story-mystery balance felt formulaic, switching back and forth between Abigail’s relationships with everyone and discussing the mystery at seemingly plotted out points instead of happening naturally. This often led to much more tell than show since characters needed to give Abigail information at some point and what better way than to just tell her how someone acts and why?
The writing also suffered. Other than being rife with fragments, in dialogue and the narrative, there were other, non-fragment incomplete sentences. Generally, the writing was rather poor and simple.
The bottom line: a simple, contrived mystery with a few pleasant surprises here and there. If you just want to sit back and enjoy, give this one a shot, otherwise there are better cozy mysteries out there (my personal favorite is the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle, but that’s for another post!)