I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
This is what a cozy mystery should be. It's fun but not fluffy. Entertaining but not shallow. Touching but not melodramatic.
I'll start with a series summary: Nichelle Clarke is a journalist for the Richmond, VA newspaper, covering the crimes and courthouse beat, giving her ample, believable opportunities to find herself up to her eyeballs in mystery. She's smart, likeable, a bit cheeky and has integrity to spare, but doesn't hesitate to give as good as she gets. She has great sources who like her and a couple that like her just a little bit more than the rest, including one ex-boyfriend and one sinfully beautiful man that seems to be in the business of sin, in a Goodfella kind of way.
Small Town Spin centres on the story of a former Superbowl champion whose son is found dead from an apparent suicide. While not normally her bailiwick, close friend and sports columnist, Parker - whose also a close friend of the bereaved father - asks her to be the first to break the story, in hopes of setting the tone for the media storm that will break when the death is made public. She soon finds holes in the sheriff's suicide theory; it could be, but it doesn't make sense. Another teen death soon follows, this one with a note the parents swear is fake. Nichelle discovers that the police found moonshine at the scene of both deaths, and she's just not going to let this go.
Obviously, teen suicide is a big topic in this book - if this is a hot button topic for you, tread carefully. My peripheral experience with suicide was as an adult, but I thought the author did an excellent job balancing respect for the tragedy that is suicide of any kind, and a cozy tone that kept the story enjoyable and not at all heavy. There's nothing here that made me feel like my feelings were being played; the story was written, I thought, with sincerity and a skilful hand.
I love Nichelle; I'd jump at the chance to call someone like her a friend any day. I like Parker, who plays a part in every mystery in this series - he's cheeky and charismatic without being slimy. I dislike Shelby and think she's a bit over-the-top hateful, but I've resigned myself to at least one hateful character in every cozy series. Nichelle acquires another one in this book, Spencer, and someone needs to hit him a good one. But at least in these books, Nichelle doesn't just take it - she dishes it right back out to both of them and I find myself cheering her on each and every time she puts them in their places.
So, the romantic angle. I'm conflicted and it's where that half star went. I hate love triangles. HATE THEM. But Ms. Walker introduced two men from the very first book. Kyle, the ex-boyfriend/ATF agent, and Joey, the Italian-by-way-of-New-Jersey uh...businessman. Who drives a black Lincoln. Really, I think all the stereotypes are ticked here, except that he's beautiful and of the refined, luxe variety of goodfella. Anyway, by the end of the first book, I thought she could make this work in the same way Janet Evanovich makes it work - Nichelle doesn't have to choose. One is unsuitable anyway.
But in Small Town Spin she's angst-y and feeling guilty and conflicted and now I'm starting to feel angst about the love triangle. I like Kyle and I like Joey and I don't want her to have to choose. It's the 21st century, Nichelle is her own woman, and for the purposes of this series I don't see why she can't have both. In a safe and ethical manner, of course.
The mystery. The mystery was excellent and so well plotted. Really, deliciously convoluted with blind alleys, dead ends (those two might be the same thing), lots of suspects. There is moonshine. Hootch. White Lightning. How cool is that? I don't think I've ever read a cozy that involves moonshine, and I've read a boatload of cozies. I'm not sure about the murder method; it doesn't jibe with what I know about the subject, but I'm willing to concede I'm not an expert.
Very little was predictable about this mystery and what little I was able to see coming ended up coming from totally different directions. I was confronted with the murderer the same time Nichelle was. That's always a good thing in a murder mystery.
This series is rapidly becoming a top 10 favorite and I am looking forward to the next book.
I received an ARC from NetGalley and Henery Press in exchange for an honest review, but I'm purchasing a hard copy of this book for my shelves because it's one I'll be reading again.