Friday, July 27, 2018

In Peppermint Peril (A Book Tea Shop Mystery #1)

Author:  Joy Avon
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683317937
Crooked Lane Books
$26.99; $12.99 Amazon
November 13, 2018

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This Christmas, Callie Aspen returns to her childhood hideout Heart's Harbor, Maine where her great aunt runs Book Tea, a vintage tearoom where every sweet treat contains a bookish clue.  Upon arrival in the fairy-tale snowy town, Callie is drawn into the preparations for a special tea party at Haywood Hall, the rambling house of Heart's Harbor's oldest resident, rich but lonely widow Dorothea Finster, who invited her estranged relatives, old friends and the elite of the town to make a mysterious announcement about her will.

Believing they can touch a part of her fortune, everybody is determined to come, despite not liking each other or their hostess.  And Callie's old friend Sheila complicates things by using the tea party to announce her daughter's engagement, even though her daughter isn't sure she's in love with the young lawyer her mother thinks so perfect for her.

Catering to people who each have their own agenda isn't easy for the Book tea crew, especially once the valuable engagement ring goes missing and a dead body turns up in the conservatory.  Can Callie and her great aunt use their love of clues to dig into the crimes and show their unhappy hostess and squabbling guests the true Christmas spirit?

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When I started this book, I didn't know what to expect, since this is a new author and the beginning to a new series.  While I felt it began slightly slow, as the story went on I realized that this could indeed be a nice series to come home to.  Why, you ask?  Well, my review should tell you what I mean.

Callie Aspen has come home to spend the holidays with her Aunt Iphy, who runs the Book Tea tearoom.  Iphy has been asked to provide a tea for an old friend, wealthy widow Dorothea Finster.  Dorothea's family and friends are attending because they've been told that she wants to make an announcement regarding her will.

But unbeknownst to Dorothea, the wife of her only relative, Stephen Du Bouvrais, has a surprise of her own.  Sheila has decided to turn the occasion into an impromptu engagement party for her daughter Amber - without even consulting the girl.  When Callie arrives, she sees Sheila again and is surprised that she's manipulating everything the way she wants it, not Dorothea.  She shows Callie the ring she wants hidden inside the cake - which will be cut by Amber's prospective husband Ben - and when everyone arrives and that indeed occurs, Callie is surprised to find the ring missing from the box.  

With Ben feeling humiliated and running away, Amber upset and leaving the room, and Sheila demanding to know where the ring has gone, Dorothea realizes that everything has gone wrong.  It's not too long after that when Callie hears a scream and Amber comes out of the conservatory exclaiming that the old gardener Leadenby is dead.  Callie is trying to keep the situation under control but it's nearly impossible, and wonders who would have wanted to kill him?

But before she can find out the truth, she's going to have to deal with the people around her wanting to keep their secrets hidden, and a surly Deputy who never expected he'd have to deal with a murder in their quiet town.  But which one of these people wanted Leadenby dead, and did he have secrets of his own that got him killed?

I felt that this book was slightly different because the protagonist isn't the usual type we find in cozy mysteries.  She's a 39-year-old tour guide who's come home to spend Christmas with her great aunt.  She didn't lose her job or break away from a bad relationship.  There's a hint that she left town because she was hurt that Stephen chose Sheila over her, but there's no angst over it.  She actually wears makeup (not lip gloss which I really feel is better suited for teens, not grown women) and isn't Too Stupid To Live.

Callie asks questions of people, but isn't really invasive and is truly interested in helping them.  She seems to me to be a bit of a Fixer; because she's a tour guide she probably has to deal with 'people problems' and I get the feeling that she truly wants to help people, not just grill them about the murder.

Callie eliminates suspects one by one, but she doesn't withhold information from Deputy Falk, going so far as to seek him out to share what she's learned so far.  While he doesn't specifically tell her to stay out of the situation, he does tell her to be careful - giving us the impression that this is his first murder investigation and he's also learning as he goes; it gives him a human quality that's nice.

There were a couple of disappointments, however; I did feel that it was irresponsible of Falk to offer her a beer knowing she had to drive - in winter, no less, and a long way into town from where he lived.  He should have said something along the lines of: "I'm going to have a beer.  I'd offer you one, but you're driving.  Would you like a soda or coffee?"  I can forgive a lot in books, but I do have a hard time with people drinking and driving, and worse when it comes to a police officer doing it like it's no big thing.  I would also like to see it expanded on as to why Falk doesn't like Christmas.  There's a mystery there about him that's worth exploring further.

I didn't much care for the character of Sheila; she seemed pretentious and I hate pretentious people.  Yes, she married well and has money, but that's no reason to act superior around people and order them to do things.  I also didn't feel the connection between her and Stephen, but since it wasn't a major plot point, it didn't really matter. 

But I did wonder why Agatha Christie kept coming up when there was nothing about Dame Christie in the book at all.  Yes, the cake had book clues, but none about this particular author, which left me a little disappointed, especially since I don't read the author they did concern. 

However, it was written fairly well and I liked how it all came together in the end.  I enjoyed the fact that there was no 'evil nemesis' to throw a wrench in the works (let's hope the sheriff doesn't come back to town and decide off the bat he doesn't like Callie and try to make her life miserable).  Callie proved herself to be a capable woman who doesn't fall apart in a crisis and can think on her feet.  In other words, an admirable person.  

While the murder itself wasn't too involved, it was still a delightful endeavor, and there were some nice subplots along the way that kept the story moving along.  All in all, a gratifying story with a decent ending that leaves us looking toward the possibilities of Haywood Hall in the next in the series.  Recommended.



More on Joy Avon's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/a/joy-avon/

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