Monday, February 27, 2017

Death & the Gravedigger's Angel (An Auction Block Mystery #3)

Author:  Loretta Ross
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover (LP); Trade Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #: 9781410497659; 9780738750415
Midnight Ink Publishing
264 Pages
$30.99; $14.99; $7.99
February 8, 2017


When former army medic Tony Dozier is accused of killing a member of the hate group that disrupted his wife's funeral, the prosecution charges premeditated murder and the defense claims temporary insanity.  Former marine Death Bogart and auctioneer Wren Morgan think there's more to the story.

They're both led to the long-abandoned Hadleigh House, where Wren begins preparing the contents for auction but ends up appraising the story behind an antique sketchbook.  As Wren uncovers the century-old tale of a World War I soldier and his angel, Death finds a set of truths that will change...or end...their lives.


Wren Morgan, her boyfriend Death (pronounced Deeth) Bogart and his brother Randy are making their way to Hadleigh House, an old abandoned mansion that's just been handed to the Keystone and Sons auction house.  Wren works for them and is going to catalogue and pack up everything for auction.  But while they are wending their way to the house, Death tells Wren about a recent event:  it seems an old man wearing a Civil War uniform was killed on their path, also known as the Vengeance Trail.  He was drunk, riding a stolen horse, and the horse ran him into a low-hanging branch and he had been killed.  Then Death tells Wren the 'creepy' part, which is the fact the uniform was saturated with formaldehyde and traces of human decomposition - which means the dead guy removed the uniform from a recently-deceased corpse.  Not a pretty picture to Wren (or to anyone, I would imagine).

The brothers leave Wren to her task and decide to explore the surrounding area, which (without going into great detail) puts them in contact with Kurt Robinson, who runs Warriors' Rest, a camp for wounded vets.  When Kurt finds out that Death is a private investigator he asks for his help in proving his friend insane.  It seems the friend, Anthony Dozier, is on trial for murder because he was found with a dying man in the back of his car.  The man had been stabbed several times, because Tony was seen arguing with the man's father earlier - and here it gets a bit involved - at the funeral of Tony's wife.  Tony married a Muslim woman who died in a car crash, and the CAC (Church of the Army of Christ) is a hate group that want to convert or eradicate anyone who isn't Christian, so they showed up to protest.  Tyler Jones is the head of the church and the man Tony confronted.  Tony was found the next morning, thinking he was back in Afghanistan with a wounded soldier in his car and was trying to find the base hospital.  So the defense wants temporary insanity, and the prosecutor wants murder since he believes it was premeditated. 

Meanwhile Wren, while going through the house finds an old sketchbook with a drawing of a woman and soldiers.  The woman is holding her hair away from her face with one hand while holding a ladle in the other.  Many of the drawings are similar, all with the woman, and it intrigues Wren to want to know more about the artist and occupier of the home.

Then Orly Jackson, the deputy sheriff of East Bledsoe Ferry, shows up asking Wren if she knew the man because he had a note in his pocket with her name on it and her handwriting.  The note is a reference authenticating the uniform and would have been sold with it but neither Wren nor any of the Keystones remember him, which leaves Orly back where he started - trying to identify the dead man, and also the dead man the uniform was removed from.  As I said, it gets pretty involved...

When Death visits Tony Dozier, Tony tells him he saw his dead wife, and when we went toward her, he found August bleeding and tried to help him.  Death, hearing the story, is sure of one thing: he's convinced the man didn't kill August Jones, and sets out to find out who did.  

When Wren shows Death the pictures she took of the sketchbook on her phone, they both agree that they've seen the woman somewhere before but can't remember; she eventually shows the sketchbook to Doris Keystone who also thinks she's seen the woman before.  What she does tell Wren, however, is that Hadleigh House was also known as 'the gravedigger's house' since it belonged to an old man who lived there by himself and rarely spoke to anyone.

And this, my friends, leaves several mysteries to be uncovered:  Who is the gravedigger?  Who is the woman in the sketchbook?  Who was the dead old man, and where did he get the uniform?  And finally, if Tony didn't kill August, who did?  

This was quite a book.  The plot is complicated, detailed, and utterly fascinating.  We have several subplots that are quite engaging also, and Ms. Ross weaves them together in a tapestry that threads suspense, mystery, and humor effortlessly to create a final product that is gratifying to read.  The best of these (while they are all good) is "watching" Death come to some conclusions of his own (and I will let you find these out on your own).

I think of all the books in this series I enjoyed this one the most, because we are gaining more insight into our characters, and as I have a fondness for them (as one should in each book one reads) I was quite delighted with it.  There are some very funny scenes which had me outright laughing; and I do love the fact that Wren is no shrinking violet - she's a woman who can think on her feet and stand on her own.  There is genuine feeling between all the characters in the book, and you can feel the warmth come through the pages.

When the end comes, and everything ties together nicely, we are given a satisfying conclusion to a very good mystery indeed that keeps us intrigued throughout and leaves us waiting for the next in the series (which I hope is soon!)  Highly recommended.

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