Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pirates, Aargh!

A Death by Chocolate Mystery #3
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books
February 25, 2020

It's early September in Eastport ME, which means it's time for the Pirate Festival, a weekend full of fun, booze, and "Aargh." Partners in The Chocolate Moose bakery, Jake and Ellie, are hoping for a big weekend of sales at the end of the tourist season. Eastport is full of people, mostly those who are looking for fun in their pirate garb. Among those visitors are Harry Hadlyme, 'foodie' celebrity, and his camera crew. Harry is not out for fun, though. His purpose seems to be to trash all the food establishments in Eastport. A confrontation with Jake is soon big news all around the town, and when he is discovered dead in the basement of The Chocolate Moose, Jake becomes the prime and only suspect. 

I always enjoy my fictional visits to Eastport. We took a very long drive to Eastport from our usual Maine vacation spot a few years ago on the strength of Grave's previous series, Home Repair is Homicide. It's a lovely small town with gorgeous 19th-century houses and vivid history. Sarah Graves captures the look and feel of the place beautifully. Jake and Ellie are a bit of a "Lucy and Ethel" pair of sleuths. The difference is that they are capable women who manage to get themselves out of their sometimes hare-brained plans. This time they cut it very close. I always enjoy the supporting characters whom I have become to know so well. Ellie's ever-expanding family in the big old house on Key Street plays a part in this story as well.

Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Wrenching Story, Beutifully Told

Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin's Press
January 14, 2020

It's 2018, and 22-year-old Morgan Christopher is starting the second year of her sentence for a crime she did not commit. Her incarceration in the NC State Correctional Center has completely derailed her hopes for a career in art. When she is offered a chance to be released to restore a WPA Post Office mural, which was never hung in the Edenton NC post office. The offer comes from the daughter of Jesse Jameson Williams, a renowned African-American artist from Edenton. Jesse had a history of helping young artists, but Morgan has no idea how he learned of her work and can't ask since he is now deceased. She, of course, jumps at the offer, despite her lack of any experience with restoration. There are several other strings attached, chiefly a hard date for the completion of the repair. The mural must be hung in the gallery that Jesse wanted to be built in Edenton. Compounding the mystery is the question of why the mural was not hung in 1940, and the fate of the young NJ artist, Anna Dale. Anna disappeared, and nothing has been heard of her since. The story is told from the viewpoint of Morgan in 2018, alternating with Anna in 1940.

I found Big Lies in a Small Town a somewhat difficult read. It pushed a lot of buttons for me since I grew up in a small town not that far from Edenton, and not that many years after Anna's time. Growing up in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s made me aware of the dangers and prejudices that a forward-thinking young woman from NJ faced in Edenton. Added to those problems, Anna had won the contest for the mural over a local, "favorite son." Reading Anna's viewpoint filled me with foreboding as to what her fate might have been. However, I came away from the book with an appreciation for its sense of place and time, and indelible characters. It's a wrenching story, beautifully told. I had never read anything by Diane Chamberlain before Big Lies in a Small Town, but I hope to read more of her work in the future. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars