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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Playing with Fire (Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade #2)

Playing with Fire - J.J. Cook

Well, thanks to an early day off work, I was finally able to finish reading this book AND remember what I'd read.

 

Series summary:  Stella takes a job in Sweet Pepper, TN as a fire chief for a volunteer fire department starting back up from scratch after a couple of decades of county control.  Her housing is supplied by the town and it's the old fire chief's cabin and he's haunting it. Also, it turns out that the grandfather she never knew she had is the "rich man on the hill" and controls most of Sweet Pepper.  I have no idea how the authors would wish for me to feel about the old man, but he leaves me cold.  Eric, the ghost, however - I have a huge crush on him.  Stella's likeable although a bit wooden and her is-he-or-isn't-he love interest is an ass.  In spite of my sparkling summation (ha!), it's actually a pretty good read.

 

This is the second book in the series and it suffers a bit from sophomore slump.  My issues might not be another reader's issues, but here's what left me wanting by the end:

 

1.  If I had to read about Stella's angst over "should I stay or should I go" one more time, the book was going airborne.  It was harped on.

 

2.  The Parental Visit doubled up on by the Ex Boyfriend Visit.  The parents were ridiculous at first:  "We're here to bring you home."  Never mind that she's an adult, fights fires for a living, and is the Fire Chief.  She's obviously only 5 years old and has run away from home, needing her parents to drag her kicking and screaming back to Chicago.  It does get much much better as the story goes on, but in a complete 180 degree turn that feels totally false.  One paragraph they're talking about "when you come home with us" and the next "the decision to stay is totally up to you and we'll support you no matter what you choose".  Huh?  Whiplash anyone?

 

Beyond the totally manipulative angle of the ex-boyfriend (she found having sex with her friend) coming to visit, unannounced, with her parents, and her mother saying "it was a one time mistake - you just need to forgive him and get back together", Doug (the ex) actually provided a bit of comic relief as Eric the ghost pranked him.

 

3.  I don't like the grandfather or the obvious, clichéd story line of his new wife trying to get his money.  It's so old hat it's boring and none of them are likeable.

 

4.  The sheriff is an ass.  No, sorry, he's an immature, unprofessional ass.  His antagonism is so exaggerated it just makes me roll my eyes, instead of engaging my indignation on the part of Stella.

 

5.  Not enough Eric.  Seriously, really really crushing on this ghost.

 

6.  Clunky use of third person narrative; the authors would switch viewpoints rather willy-nilly and a couple of times I found myself very confused about who was saying/thinking what.

 

7.  This one's a biggie:  they tried to end the book using foreshadow/cliffhanger and it just pissed me off.  It just felt so manipulative - like they expected the reader to Gasp! and think "Oh no! What's going to happen next?!?!"  Blech.

 

It sounds like there was a lot I didn't like about this book, but some of those things (3 and 6 definitely) were minor and it was easy to gloss over them when they reared their heads.  I keep saying "they" and "them" because J.J. Cook is actually a pseudonym for a husband/wife writing team.  Perhaps that explains some of what I feel are inconsistencies in narrative and characterisations.

 

The murder mystery plot was good; a cold case over who killed Eric all those years ago.  For decades he was believed to have been killed in a silo fire, until a fire at the firehouse revealed his body in a wall, with a bullet in his head.  Old secrets, a new body, lots of enemies and 20 million dollars (or 30? I can't remember...)  I never had any idea of who the killer was, although I had suspicions that were totally wrong.  I liked the ending too; Stella could have gone the TSTL route, but actually lived up to her character.

 

But what the hell happened to the money???  Everything was explained but the money seems to have been brushed aside at the end.

(show spoiler)

 

I'll definitely read the next one, but I want more Eric!