Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Trouble on the Books (A Castle Bookshop Mystery)

Author:  Essie Lang
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683319818
Crooked Lane Books
336 Pages
$26.99; $12.99 Amazon
March 13, 2019


Rookie bookstore owner Shelby Cox must hit the books to learn the ropes before she loses a killer in the stacks.

Shelby Cox never intended to become a bookseller, so when the former editor returns to her hometown of Alexandria Bay, nestled in upstate New York's breathtaking Thousand Islands region, to take over her aunt's bookstore, she has no idea what to expect.  To her amazement, she discovers that she now owns a fifty-percent share in Bayside Books, and will also run the store's second location in the majestic castle on nearby Blye Island.

But just as Shelby is gearing up for the start of the tourist season, the Castle volunteer coordinator is found murdered in the nearby Grotto.  Castle caretaker Matthew Kessler is suspect number one, but Shelby thinks the killing may be connected to an earlier era, when violence among Prohibition-era smugglers was rampant in the region.  As Shelby launches her own investigation, handsome and unnerving Special Agent Zack Griffin of the Coast Guard Investigative Services tries to quell her smuggling theory and keep her safe.  But Shelby is determined to summon all her savvy as a book editor to plot the murder - and find the killer before he strikes again.


Shelby Cox moved to Alexandria Bay, New York, to help her Aunt Edie run two bookstores, discovering that she owns a fifty percent share.  Edie is recovering from knee surgery and therefore leaves Shelby in charge, and she's enjoying her respite from the small publishing house she's where she's been working as an editor.  She doesn't, however, enjoy working with Loreena Swan, curator of exhibits and volunteer coordinator at Blye Castle on Blye Island, the location of their second bookstore.  In fact, Loreena and Shelby have a run-in when Loreena attempts to tell Shelby how to run the bookstore. 

But when Shelby decides to take a stroll around the castle she finds herself in the grotto...along with a very dead Loreena.  When the authorities set their sights on Matthew Kessler, caretaker of the island, Edie asks her to intervene and see if she can figure out who wanted Loreena dead, since she's convinced Matthew had nothing to do with it.  It turns out Matthew's an ex-true crime writer, and when his wife was murdered years ago, he came to the island.  No one was caught in that case, and Edie's afraid that the police will falsely arrest him for killing Loreena.

Shelby also has some questions of her own about her late mother.  Since she and her father left Alexandria Bay when she was three, after her mother's death, she knows nothing about her.  But no one - including Edie - seems to want to tell her anything, or claims they don't know.  So Shelby has two reasons to ask people questions.  But will she find out the truth, or will a killer find her first?...

This is the beginning of a new series, and I liked the premise, since it appeared to be interesting, and thankfully, different from the formula.  Shelby isn't running away from a relationship, and she hasn't lost her job.  There's no 'evil nemesis' out to get her, and (relieved sigh) there's no love triangle.  All things I really dislike in mysteries.  So, with that to get me started, I was happy to pick up this book.  Although I will state I did have a bit of trepidation at the beginning when Shelby stated she had a healthy fear of water, but then I found out she lived on a houseboat.  Hmmm...thankfully, it was never mentioned again, and I found no other contradictions in the story.

Anyway, Shelby is used to living on her own and caring for herself, so while her aunt wants her to move into the home where her father grew up, she'd rather be on her own, hence renting the houseboat.  I don't think I'd ever get used to sleeping on the water, but I can see where she found it to be restful.  She's finding her way in their town and trying to make new friends, but when her aunt tasks her with finding out the truth, it's not easy to ask questions and hope to keep from ruffling feathers.

There's also a certain Coast Guard investigator named Zack who shows up every now and then; Shelby of course is attracted to him, but I'm glad to say she doesn't act like a tongue-tied schoolgirl when he's around, and he manages to convey interest in her without giving any appearance of doing so.  It will be intriguing to watch this progress in future books.

I found the mystery quite well written; while it seemed Loreena had her share of enemies, none of them hated her enough to kill her, which made it all the harder to discover who wanted her dead.  There were no evil deeds by the woman, and while she managed to rule the roost, as it were, the clues were hidden nicely within.

I also liked the back story of finding out the truth about her mother; I would like to see more pursuit of this in the next book also.  Secrets and lies are never a good thing, and someone is always bound to be hurt in the long run.

When the killer was discovered, and the reasons why, it made sense (in the mind of the killer, at least) and I found the climax put together quite well and I was happy to see that Shelby held her own in the matter, and could think on her feet, as it were.  The murderer came as a surprise, which bodes well for the next in the series.  I read a lot of mysteries, and one doesn't want to figure out the solution too soon.  I feel that this author has a decent career ahead of her if this book is any indication.  Recommended.


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