Thursday, June 13, 2019

Designs on Murder (A Ghostly Fashionista Mystery #1)

Author:  Gayle Leeson
Genre:   Mystery

Digital Book
Grace Abraham Publishing
212 Pages
$3.99 Amazon
March 26, 2019

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Amanda Tucker is excited about opening her fashion design studio in Shops On Main, a charming old building in historic Abingdon, Virginia.  She didn't realize a ghost came with the property!  But soon Maxine "Max" Englebright, a young woman who died in 1930, isn't the on;y dead person at the retail complex.  Mark Tinsley, a web designer with a know-it-all attitude who also rented space at Shops On Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new "friends" and fellow small business owners is his killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark's murder a la Nancy Drew.  Easy for Max to want to investigate - the ghostly fashionista can't end up the killer's next victim!

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Amanda Tucker lives in Abingdon, Virginia.  She's a twenty-four-year-old young woman with a recent business degree, and she's just concluded a disappointing job interview, realizing that she doesn't want to work in an office for the rest of her life.  Therefore, when she sees an 'available' sign in the window of a Victorian home that's been converted into shops, she decides then and there that she wants to follow her passion and open her own custom clothing shop, and goes to look at the empty space.  While there, she meets a young woman dressed like a flapper, who tells her that her name is Max - short for Maxine, and helps convince her that this would be perfect for her new venture.

After talking with her grandfather, Dave, he agrees and loans her the funds needed to begin her dream.  The owner, Mrs. Meacham, takes her around and introduces her to the other tenants, and it's not long after that when Amanda discovers that Max is a ghost - and she's the only one who can see or hear her.  But before she thinks she's losing her mind, she tells her grandfather, and when he comes to the shop, it turns out he can also hear and see Max...along with Amanda's cute cat, Jazzy. 

While she's ready to embark on her new career, it needs to be put temporarily on hold when one of the tenants is murdered.  While Max wants her to investigate, Amanda refuses to have anything to do with it.  Then she meets new tenant Jason, who's moving into the space recently vacated by the death.

Now Amanda is trying to make a go of her clothing business, trying to keep Max out of her love life, and trying to stay as far away from a killer as she can -- because Max is convinced, along with her grandfather -- that maybe one of her co-tenants might be a murderer, and she doesn't want to be next on the list...

This is the first book in a new series, and I'm pleased to say that I really enjoyed it.  Amanda honestly doesn't want to get involved in a murder investigation, which is a breath of fresh air, but she's being pushed by her new resident ghost Max.  Also, Amanda actually spends time in her shop and works, unlike a lot of other amateur sleuths, who always have time for investigating but never seem to be in their stores to actually do anything.

I also like the fact that she pays attention to her cat Jazzy - keeping her indoors instead of letting roam around outside, making sure she's fed and safe, etc.  This also pleases me, as I love cats and hate it when the protagonist just allows her pet to run wild, never caring if being outdoors can get her cat killed.  So that's several pluses to begin with.

I do like ghosts in books as long as they're not poltergeists and not boring.  Max is as vibrant as if she were living; as Grandpa Dave would say, she's a firecracker.  I love her personality and the fact that she says things that Amanda echoes without thinking.  It's pretty funny at times seeing Amanda flustered and trying to cover her tracks.

Although Jason wasn't in the book constantly, he shouldn't be because he has his own career to worry about, and again, I like the fact that he's a photographer and not the ubiquitous police officer who usually winds up as the love interest.  But I really like Dave, because after his wife's death he still manages to keep going as a carpenter and restoring furniture, and it shows that he's not going to be cantankerous, sit in a chair and watch television all day while offering advice about 'back in the day.' 

In other words, these are characters that are an integral part of bringing fresh eyes to a tried-and-true genre.  They make for a book that was a delight to read, because as much as the plot (which we'll get into in a minute) is good, the characters are what bring it all to life, and these characters are certainly different than the norm.

As to the plot, when the murder occurs, it seems that while everyone was surprised, only Amanda seemed outright nervous while everyone else was willing to sit back and let the police handle it.  But the police were basically a non-presence, and they weren't reassuring anyone that they had suspects in mind, so of course she'd be nervous.  When Amanda discovered that there was more to the murder than meets the eye, it propelled the story forward, because she didn't know which - if any - of her coworkers she could trust, so she didn't trust anyone except Max and Dave.

When the ending came it wasn't terribly climactic, but then again, I don't always care for nail-biting scenes all the time, anyway.  When the killer was revealed, it wasn't too much of a surprise, because the clues were there; but if you happened to miss any along the way, Amanda enumerated them shortly before the scene with the killer (as we knew there would be one) so it was pretty much laid forth for you, which was a nice touch.  The reason for the murder made sense in the mind of the murderer, for as anyone knows, some things are better left alone than to lose your life.

All in all, I found it a pleasing tale that was a decent introduction to a new series, and hopefully it will be around for a good long while.  I look forward to reading the next in the series.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Designs-Murder-Ghostly-Fashionista-Mystery/dp/0996764763

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2856458097

More on Gayle Leeson's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/l/gayle-leeson/

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