I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
My first ARC. I'm giddy and a little nervous. But I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, so here it goes!
Heartache Motel is a collection of three short stories from 3 Henery Press mystery writers. Nothing new. Except that each of these stories are set in the same place, at the same time: the Heartache Motel in Memphis right before Christmas. I can't say it hasn't been done before, but it's new to me and I thought it was a kick! (Henery Press also published Other People's Baggage - where the heroine of each story flew threw the Dallas airport during bad storms on the same day, resulting in each one getting the other's luggage and having to make do with what they find within. Highly recommended!)
The Heartache Motel is in itself a heartache. Tacky, rundown and available to rent by the hour. It's the kind of hotel that, upon checking in, one immediately gloves up and removes the outermost layers of bedding to then start inspecting for bedbugs.
Depressing, no? But wait! The hotel is run by a staff of drag queens! Each portraying a supporting cast member from an Elvis movie, they are fabulous! The bar, Suspicious Minds, runs a full schedule of fascinating, colourful entertainment: singing, look-a-like contests and who has the best pelvic thrust! A full cast of shady characters hang out at Suspicious Minds too. There's something for everyone at the Heartache, just watch where you sit and wash your hands. A lot.
I'm not actually an Elvis fan, but it's hard not to love this setting. I can just see it all in my head; a carnival riot of neon, rhinestones, and beehives.
Diners Keepers, Losers Weepers by Terri L. Austin
The first story, this one takes place a few months after the series book Diner Impossible. I haven't yet read anything in this series, but I didn't find that an issue at all. The story stands alone quite well.
The MC (Rose), BFF (Roxy), Boss (Ma - not Rose's real mother), other friend Axton and Stoner Joe all head off for four days in Memphis to visit Graceland. Once there, they find themselves at the Heartache and enmeshed in a murder. With drag queens and Elvis impersonators everywhere, figuring out who's who is, well, more complicated.
While I found the main characters each to be a bit too out there, with each the poster child of their own individual eccentricity, I liked them all a lot - they are a hoot! Stoner Joe was just hysterical and I hope I'm having as much fun as Ma when I turn 80!
The plot is a well-fleshed-out murder mystery and if the characters took a few liberties while investigating, they at least did it overtly without feeling the need to justify themselves. There wasn't any coyness about these amateur sleuths and I appreciated it. They didn't pretend to be angles either - also much appreciated. They aren't villains, but more 'means-justifies-the-ends".
A fun caper-style story that has me intrigued about the series this story is based on.
Quick Sketch by Larissa Reinhart
This one was probably my least favourite of the three stories but not because it wasn't well-written. This is a fast paced, almost mad-capped story that isn't so much mystery as sting operation.
The characters are vividly written and feel well-fleshed out, even in this short novella. I had no problem getting a sense of who these people were when they lived at home. The MC, Cherry, is a fun character with wit, although there's evidence of some emotional baggage there too. I loved reading about the moments where she's practicing her art; sketching or drawing a portrait. I actually felt her pain in the Green Room. Priscilla, one of the drag queens, plays a big part in this story and her character is fabulous. Funny too, with some great one liners.
As I mentioned above, the plot isn't so much a mystery as a sting operation. I don't want to give too much away and possibly betray plot spoilers, so I'll just say it revolves around poker. This is probably why I didn't love the story more; I'm just not one to fall into stories about stings, or confidence games. I think I'd have enjoyed the story a lot more had it been about something else as all the other ingredients for a great story were definitely there for me.
Dateline Memphis by LynDee Walker
A closed-room mystery! Nichelle checks into the Heartache for one night, so she can stop off at Graceland on her way home for Christmas and is trapped there when Elvis' home goes into lockdown. A theft. A possible story for her Richmond newspaper. Nichelle is paying attention, asking questions, and writing her story - with just a little bit of sleuthing.
I have to be upfront and say I've read the first book Front Page Fatality (loved it!) and have the second Buried Leads on my TBR pile as I write this, so I immediately connected to this story in a way I didn't with the first two. But all other things being equal, I still think this would be my favourite of three very strong stories. Locked room mysteries are fun - even when the suspect pool numbers in the thousands!
Nichelle is on her own in this story, although phone calls and text messages introduce the other series' main characters, each with their own small role to play. The author does a good job, I think, of giving a quick thumbnail sketch of those characters: her editor, her ex, and the mysterious mobster who is hotter than sin. I like Nichelle. She feels like a real person, wry and witty and nursing a serious shoe collection, she also has some depth to her as well. I don't pretend to understand the shoe thing, but otherwise I can imagine her as one of my circle of friends.
The thing about novellas is you don't want to talk too much about the plot - it's too easy to go spoiler-ish, but I think this one was really well done. One early interaction Nichelle had stuck out and raised a flag for me, but the author very craftily had me second guessing and switching my suspicion to someone else. I ended up being correct the first time, but I didn't know that until the end. The whole thing was fast paced and entertaining.
At the end, Nichelle returns to the Heartache to find that her little dog, Darcy, has solved a mystery too.
I'd recommend Heartache Motel for any one who is currently a fan of any of these authors, as a way to bridge the gap between full books with fun in-between adventures with your favourite characters. I'd also recommend this to anyone looking for new mystery authors to add to their shelves - these novellas are an excellent way to "taste-test" new-to-you series. I first became acquainted with Henery Press by picking up Other People's Baggage, the other anthology I mentioned at the beginning of this review. I've since become hooked on 4 of their mystery series - each well crafted and entertaining. Each just that step above your average cozy mystery.