Wednesday, June 28, 2023

A Trio of Senior Sleuths Catch a Serial Killer

Peter Boland
Joffee Books
December 22, 2022

I picked up The Charity Shop Detective Agency as part of my Kindle Unlimited membership because I wanted something light to read. It bore a similar description to that of The Thursday Murder Club and features a trio of senior sleuths. When 86-year-old Sarah Brown is found murdered, stabbed in the back, and with a domino clutched in her hand with her name scratched on it, the ladies running the "Dogs Need Good Homes" Charity Shop spring into action. Sarah Brown was one of their favorite customers, part of a group for whom they provided a place to meet, tea, and cakes every Tuesday morning. Fiona, Sue, and Daisy have a surprising set of skills for retired ladies, all of which they employ in their dogged pursuit of the killer as the bodies pile up. The pretty small town of Southbourne has a serial killer on its hands. Have no fear, though; with the help of Fiona's scruffy terrier, Simon Le Bon, and the reluctant cooperation of DI Fincher, all will be well.

The Charity Shop Detective Agency has all the ingredients of a classic cozy mystery set in an English village; likable, if somewhat bungling, main characters and quirky supporting characters. All three ladies have technology skills, skulking about and even lock picking. It was surprising, to say the least, but less dramatic was their commitment to each other. All for one and one for all would be a fitting motto. I was reasonably sure of the guilty party, but the author threw in enough red herrings to keep it interesting. There may have been too many twists and turns in the plot as it slowed the story's progress.

I am looking forward to a second book.

RATING-3.5 Stars

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Don't Judge This Book By Its Cover

 Alexandra Benedict
 Poisoned Pen Press
 October 5, 2023

One might expect a cozy mystery by looking at the cover, or at least I did. All the Poirot-esque elements are certainly here but in a much more modern, darker form. Just retired London Metropolitan detective Roz Parker took a first-class ticket to Scotland on the last overnight Express before Christmas. She must arrive on time as her daughter is in labor, and Roz has somehow managed to miss most of the significant events of her life. 

The train has a very motley crew of travelers on board. We first meet Meg, a social media influencer taking the train to post updates and sell some products. Meg is obviously in trouble with her boyfriend, Grant. Grant is a reality TV star who is handsome and can be charming but is also belittling, and there are more than hints of physical violence. Meg is terrified of him but also alarmingly co-dependent. We also have a put-upon husband with a herd of children and a drunken wife. A group of university students are on their way to Scotland to participate in a trivia contest on TV. An elderly woman and her son, and a mousy young woman who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Roz takes her under her wing but has her own problems because her daughter's labor has become life-threatening. When the train grinds to a halt in a blizzard, and bodies keep dropping, Roz must take things in hand to find the killer. 

Murder on the Christmas Express tackles issues never seen in the cozy genre; sexual violence, rape, and the lasting effects of trauma. It also has the most unattractive cast of characters, except Roz and a few others I have ever encountered. What did I like about Murder on the Christmas Express? The plotting was excellent, with one twist, turn, and misdirection after the other. It definitely kept me reading until the end to see who the killer might be. I'm giving it 3 Stars based on that page-turning quality and the somewhat hopeful turn of events at the novel's close.

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

3 Stars