Megan Casey reviews Black By Gaslight by Nene Adams

There’s a lot to say about this novel—both good and bad. It starts out like a house on fire but finishes in smoldering ruins. Here are some of the good things. First, there is the setting: 1888 London, smoggy, dark, and smelly. Lady Evangeline (Lina, or “the dark-haired lady”) St. Claire is an independently wealthy private investigator. She is tall and strong and versed in the martial arts, like Xena, who, along with Sherlock Holmes, is her inspiration. The Gaby/Watson character is called Rhiannon Moore, who Lina rescues from a life on the streets after falling in love with her at first sight.

In an odd twist, there is another Sherlock Holmes character that plays a big role in the novel. He is called Sherrinford Pike, who lives with his lover, Dr. Ormond Sacker. Lina’s love/hate relationship with Pike is charming and often hilarious. When she accuses him of shooting at her through a dressmaker’s window, he denies it, “even if I did once introduce a cobra into your sitting room. . . . Besides, I thought that you’d sworn not to mention that unfortunate incident with the air rifle again, St. Claire. . . . [and] the arsenic-filled bonbons were an honest mistake committed only once.”

And if that sounds a bit over the top, well, so is everything else in Black by Gaslight. Lina’s language is the language of Jane Austen squared—or maybe the language of the penny dreadfuls that Rhiannon delights in reading. “Rage beat at her and filled her veins with liquid fire. A red mist enshrouded her vision.” And to be truthful, the language is often so well—or oddly—crafted that it escapes being simply romance-novel drivel and often rises to the level of actual creativity. So does the relationship between Lina and Rhiannon. Both are smitten with the other at once, but neither thinks it appropriate to mention it to the other. And when their passion gets the best of them—as it does in strange situations, such as in a carriage when they are chasing a murderer—they will then play it down, or try to pretend it didn’t happen.

But it is almost as if the author gets tired of the novel halfway through. Repetition creeps in, as do inanities. The language becomes tedious, the amount of attention to describing Victorian-era women’s attire takes up too much space, the love story becomes sappy, important incidents are forced—rather than intelligently woven—into the plot, gore is splattered more-than-generously on virtually everything. And then there is the ending, where at least one of the women takes a series of actions so stupid that it defies even my imagination—which is one that has seen more than its share of ridiculous endings. It becomes just another Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the ripper novels, with Jack as someone that constantly hears the voices of prostitutes talking to him. Motivation? Backstory?

The main thing wrong with this novel is the same thing that is wrong with most independently published books in general and lesbian mysteries in particular: the lack of an even halfway-decent editor. Yes, this is an Uber novel and one that was almost certainly first posted to a fan site. And yes, fan sites are notorious for their unabashed enthusiasm for everything Xena (or everything Hermione or everything Kate Janeway) and lack of critical sensibility.

But lack of critical thinking bespeaks a lack of education, and a lack of education is the downfall of civilizations. If you don’t believe me, look around you. What’s worse, competent editors are very few and far between—it takes a great deal of study and reading to even attempt it, while university courses in the fine arts are becoming more and more unfunded. And let’s go even further; good editors command a respectable fee—as indeed they should—and few budding authors or even independent presses can afford one.

So too bad, what started out as a potential Top 20 List novel turned into something that I finished with a sense of relief. What could—with a very competent editor—have been rated near a 5 ends up at somewhere near a 3.

For 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

 

Holly reviews Last Room at the Cliff's Edge by Mark McNease

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In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to make it known that this is the first murder mystery that I have read.  Due to my unfamiliarity with this genre, I admit that I may not be fully skilled in appreciating the nuances.  I think it’s important to note that this book contains descriptions of violence and sexual violence, which may be triggering for some readers.
This story takes place in the eastern United States.  The majority of the action occurs in a small town in which nearly everyone is queer, an accessory to murder, or both.  As the title suggests, the action centres around the Cliff’s Edge Motel, a local eyesore that residents of the town tend to steer clear of, unless they have nefarious actions that need to be carried out in a place of ill repute.  The protagonist is Linda Sikorsky, a retired police detective.  She and her wife, Kirsten McClellan, are driving to a writer’s retreat in Maine so that Kirsten can polish the final draft of her first novel.  When they are waylaid by inclement weather, they find themselves at the Cliff’s Edge Motel.  They decide to stay for the night in hopes of waiting out the storm.  Linda wakes to the sound of a struggle taking place in the next room, and the story goes from there.
This isn’t so much of a murder mystery, or at least not how I imagine a murder mystery should be laid out.  We know immediately who the murderers are and see who is working for whom.  I guess the interesting part of the read is supposed to be watching the retired detective work her magic in discovering useful tidbits of information and piece together the clues.  Major revelations regarding the back story of the characters and the underlying motives of the villain are made towards the end of the book, but by that point we have been presented with so many grisly and disturbing actions that these barely raise an eyebrow.  Sure, they explain the reasons behind the characters’ actions, but they are just drops in a bucket of indecency.
Linda’s partner seems to primarily act as a prop with which the author lays out Linda’s thought process for the reader to see.  Kirsten asks the, “why did you do that?”-type questions, and then we, the reader, learn the motives and methods of the detective through her response.  The relationship between Linda and Kirsten is unusual to me.  There isn’t a lot of affection shown between the characters, and a lot of the time it seems like Linda is merely tolerating her partner’s questions, not really appreciating her presence.  Maybe this is part of the cut and dry, rational, methodical, cold temperament of a former police detective, but to me it seems like there is distance between these two people.  You deserve better, Kirsten.
To me the most interesting character in this story is not the protagonist, but the villain.  McNease succeeded in writing a bad gal that you love to hate.  Meredith is manipulative and evil.  This deranged personality type is fascinating in a morbid, terrible way.  I am so glad to not associate with people like this in real life, and personally, I’m glad that I don’t spend too much time reading about theses types of people, either.
One thing in this book that I thought interrupted the flow was that all of the queer characters instinctively knew that the others were queer, and the author made a point of detailing this.  Everyone’s gaydar is off the charts.  As a person who is guilty of incorrectly assuming that every woman in a cowichan sweater is queer, I am baffled by the laser-like accuracy that these homos have in pinning one another down.
I am not the kind of person who watches crime shows because I have a difficult time watching people be mean to one another.  It seems that this aversion to ingesting suffering for the sake of entertainment also extends to reading descriptions of cruelty and malice.  I’m not saying that this book is poorly written or not well thought out, but I am saying that it’s not my cup of tea.  I like to read books that make me come away feeling happy or hopeful or thoughtful, or that contain beautiful prose, or that give me a different lens through which I can view the world.  Although it didn’t meet this high standard, this book did keep me occupied during a 13 hour drive from Smithers to Vancouver, so for that I’m grateful.

Tierney reviews Consequences by Sarah Libero


[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When Emily, a systems analyst, meets Kay, a detective, at their Maine police station, both feel an instant connection: Emily is all too happy to provide her expertise on Kay’s investigation of a drug gang, and she begins questioning her twenty-five-year marriage to her husband, Tom. Then when Tom is killed in a suspicious car accident, Kay takes the case–and her relationship with Emily deepens. As they untangle a complex web of crimes, the two become more and more entangled in each other’s lives. Consequences is a fast-paced romance, with plenty of external cop drama to keep things moving.

Emily and Kay are perfectly likable characters–but their characteristics and character development seems to take a backseat to the novel’s intricate plot twists, and Consequences suffers somewhat for that. For example, the novel opens with Emily getting attacked and sexually assaulted by a stranger, decades prior to the novel’s main events. Ostensibly this prelude serves to explain why she married Tom, instead of pursuing her nascent attraction to women (she states later in the novel that she married him because he helped her feel safe after the attack), but the event’s inclusion and explicitness feel weird and out of place, because it operates as a graphic plot point rather than a traumatic event that Emily works through and that contributes to her character development in some way.

*spoilers in this paragraph* I half expected Emily’s attacker to be somehow involved in the drug-smuggling ring, because everything else in the novel seems to tie back to this investigation, and every other issue in the novel is neatly tied up with a bow when this case is solved. It turns out that Tom was run off the road by one of the drug dealers in the ring, because he had found out about their illegal activities and had incriminating pictures on his phone. And even minor plot points end up leading back to the drug gang: it turns out that the worst player on the station’s poorly-ranked softball team is a crooked cop who was messing with evidence on behalf of the criminals–so with him gone, the team will be on the up and up! It all seemed a little too convenient for each and every obstacle faced by the characters to connect back to the drug investigation. *end spoilers*

Despite all the plot’s dramatic twists, turns, and reveals, I did find myself rooting for Emily and Kay. Their romance had great chemistry–and their first sex scene showcases some pretty great modeling of consent. Read Consequences if you like your romances with a heaping helping of mystery and suspense.

Susan reviews Hunter's Way by Gerri Hill

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Hunter’s Way by Gerri Hill revolves around two homicide detectives: Tori Hunter and Samantha Kennedy. They are the classic opposites buddy-cop duo: Hunter is aggressive and antagonistic, burning through six partners in seven years but apparently being a good enough detective alone to make up for it. Samantha Kennedy is on the surface a much more personable officer who has to juggle a new job, a demanding boyfriend, and Hunter.

There are a lot of moving parts to this book; the relationships between both Sam and Tori and Sam and Robert, a suspected terrorist attack, drug busts, and a serial killer attacking young lesbians. With so much going on, it’s only inevitable that pacing seems a little odd – beats of the crime that you’d expect to have more resonance or time spent on them (for example, the death of a named character who had been helping the investigation gets barely a page and is never mentioned again), and some scenes are repeated over and over (such as Tori’s emotional conflict about getting close to Sam, or Robert’s constantly contacting Samantha and saying he’ll take it to dinner.). I appreciate that the former is presumably to make room for everything else, and the latter is to emphasis how terrible Robert is as a partner, but taken together it seems odd.

The pacing does leave enough room for Sam’s slow realisation of her own sexuality, which I appreciated a lot. Sam trying to work out her own feelings by talking to people and reflecting on what she wanted seemed quite reasonable and realistic to me, even if some of the responses were disappointing. It especially entertained me that some of Sam’s ideas about lesbians appeared to be quite stereotypical; there’s a scene where she has to go undercover at a gay bar, and her idea of appropriate wear is mostly her normal clothes, but no bra; other people’s feelings may vary!

I like the way the relationship between Tori and Sam builds as well; they have complementary skills, and once they start bonding (over escaping from armed men!), I enjoyed reading about them getting closer. The characters of everyone who isn’t Tori, Sam, or their commanding officer are left a little sketchier though; even some of the plot critical characters like fellow detectives Adams and Donaldson are given only the barest scrape of personality. I don’t feel like the mystery seemed to be handled quite as well; the resolution seemed rushed and the escalation to be very sudden; there are quite a few revelations that could have been seeded into the story before the last couple of chapters, and that might have evened the pacing up a little and given some of the blander characters a little more depth.

(Or a related topic: all of the murder victims are queer. There are a number of young lesbians who are murdered, and a trans person is murdered and the investigation is handled badly. Please bear that in mind if you’re going to read it!)

SPOILERS AND CAUTION WARNINGS IN THIS PARAGRAPH: Sam is raped in the middle of the book, and I’m not going to lie: it’s not great. I can’t shake the impression that it was put in as a way to establish that Robert is an awful human being (his immediate response is to make her rape all about him and his feelings, I hate him.) and force Tori and Samantha to get closer. I feel like the same effect could have been achieved from the scene where Tori getting shot? But on the plus side, no one suggests that the attack on Sam has anything to do with her lesbianism, which is something that I was braced for all the way to the end of the book.

Hunter’s Way is mostly enjoyable; it’s a queer police procedural, and that’s what I want. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and I’m very excited to read the rest of it!

Caution warnings: murdered lesbians, there are some transphobic comments and police mishandling of a trans person’s murder; onscreen rape.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Megan Casey reviews Dirty Work by Vivien Kelly

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Jo Summers is kind of a social worker. She is the office manager of a London hostel for the disadvantaged. I’m not sure we have the equivalent in the U.S—halfway house, maybe—but the residents of her house are ex-drug addicts, ex-prostitutes, or abused men and women who have been approved to live in inexpensive housing until they can get back on their feet. When one of Jo’s favorite residents is found dead of an overdose, Jo suspects foul play of some kind. The police, of course—including an old flame—don’t agree, so Jo is forced to investigate the death on her own. Other deaths follow in short order.

In the course of her investigation, she is thrown into contact with a number of savory and unsavory characters—some of which she spends the night with. As in all good mysteries, one interview leads to another to another and to another until at last she seems to understand what the hell is going on. It is kind of a unique novel in that there is not a similar novel that comes immediately to mind. Maybe Looking for Ammu, although the resemblance is slight.

The best thing about this book is its consistent quality in every aspect of the writing. Jo’s first-person point of view narrative is a thing of beauty, such as when she describes the relationship between one of her friends and his lover: “to say that the two of us didn’t get on is like saying that Tom and Jerry had their little differences of opinion.” The descriptions of the hostel and of its work for the community are interesting and progressive. The characters are well drawn and the mystery is logical and puzzling. Few books are so well done A-Z.

Having heaped up those particular praises, I need to add that, although good, it is not a great book. The characters are not quite interesting enough, the crime doesn’t have that extra twist that brings it up to Poe level. Kudos to Onlywomen Press, who are “Radical lesbian feminist publishers,” for printing a book whose life may not yet be over.

The real crime here is that such a good book has not yet had a single review either on Amazon or on Goodreads (except mine). I’m going to go ahead and give this one a 4 plus. It may not be on the level of a Nikki Baker or a Kate Allen, but it is close. It’s not going to appear on many Top-10 lists, but it is a book I would recommend to you or anyone. And I can’t say that for many books I read. Get in touch, Vivien. Let’s get Dirty Work formatted as an e-book. And maybe we can share a bottle of Glenmorangie.

For 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews Megan Casey reviews Command of Silence, by Paulette Callen

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After reading only a few chapters of this book, I wondered why it was not a best seller. It has all the trappings of one. Think of the play Elephant Man: it is a less-than-wonderfully-written play, but the subject matter guarantees it a wide audience just as a train wreck guarantees a gaggle of rubberneckers. Command of Silence has that unique subject matter without being poorly executed. What a concept—a detective with multiple personalities. And it would have been so easy for the author to completely screw it up. She didn’t; instead, we see a wide range of emotions flitting through at least 10 completely different identities: a wisecracker, a caretaker, a monster, an artist, a child, an evil twin; hey are all part of Shiloh, and she needs all of them in order to succeed in her investigations. Or even just to get through a normal day.

I mean, when have you ever looked forward to the sleuth interrogating the suspects one by boring one? Well, I certainly did in Command of Silence. Shiloh is just so interesting that you look forward to seeing how the interviewees react to her.

And Shiloh is incredibly clever. The way she works out the solution to the mystery (which involves two abducted children) is superb, creative, and very exciting. All of the characters are well drawn and believable.

But toward the end of the book I found out the answer to the question I posed in the first paragraph. To be a best seller, or even to interest a major publisher, the final interrogations of the suspects would have to be more believable. As it is, the criminals simply break down in the face of Shiloh’s questioning, which to tell the truth, is less special than her earlier interviews. Nor is it in any way legal. In life, neither of the guilty parties would have been convicted. I feel that this is another example of an author getting a fine idea, then wondering how to work herself out of the corner she finds herself in at closing time.

So far, this book is not part of a series, and I hope this remains true. I feel that Callen has created something special that would tend to get old with more than one novel; that the personalities would just do the same type of bickering we were treated to in this one. I would far rather the author spend some time working on the dénouements to this one. To make it the terrific book that it could, with only a little rethinking, be.

Note: This book is actually only on the borderline of lesbian literature. Shiloh’s therapist is a lesbian, and I suspect at least one of Shiloh’s multiple personalities is, too. However, it was a finalist for the Lambda Award, and that’s good enough for me.

For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews Red Rover by Liz Bugg

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I confess that I like this book a little more than I originally thought I would. Maybe it’s because I liked the design and feel of the Insomniac paperback version, which is very easy on the eyes. Or maybe it was the very professional pace that Bugg was able to adhere to throughout. I also liked the theme of the mystery, which involved the protagonist’s intense search for a missing young lesbian in Toronto.

Calli Barnow gives off reminders of many other lesbian private investigators without actually borrowing anything and without being given any remarkable qualities, such as Abigail Padgett’s Blue McCarron, who has no qualms about giving the reader her views on psychology or statistics, or Caroline Shaw’s Lenny Aaron, who specializes in cats and who knows every breed. Callie is just a normal 40-something woman trying to make a decent living for her and her partner Jess, and hoping that she doesn’t get into something dangerous. The one quirk that Bugg does bestow on Calli, though, is a good one. She has anxiety attacks that tend to almost paralyze her unless she pops a Xantax. I like that kind of human weakness in a character. And I like the backstory that helps to explain it.

In her search for the missing woman, Calli comes into contact with babydyke Lisa Campbell and almost falls for her. It is only her love for Jess—who is out of town during the entire adventure—that saves her from her roving eye. The trouble is, I really liked Lisa and, at first, wanted them to get together. Jess was kind of an amorphous telephone presence that did not let me know why she and Calli were together. Lisa, on the other hand—again, at first—was the most exciting and lively character in the cast.

Bugg’s prose is average, no pops and crackles, but she tells a pretty good, exciting story. Although I frown on the type of ending she chooses—I have disparaged it in several other reviews—Bugg does it with a little more believability than, say, Anne Laughlin. In all, it reads like a first novel, but one that lets the reader know that there are better times ahead. Put Calli on a list with other Canadian sleuths such as Helen Keremos, Harriet Fordham Croft, Jil Kidd, and Aliki Pateas. It’s not a bad bunch at all. I suspect—and hope—that you will be reaching for the second Calli book before any of those mentioned above.

For more than 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews The Other Side of Silence by Joan Drury

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Tyler Jones is not the most social person in the world, so when she wins the Pulitzer Prize for journalism for a feature story about spousal abuse committed by members of the police force, she goes into semi-retirement, writing her newspaper columns from home. Because of her urgent concern about violence against women, she also spends time at a crisis center. But although her research and counseling brings her into contact with many forms of violence, her own life is rather uninteresting and predictable. That is until she finds a dead body in the park while out walking her dog.

The characterization of Tyler is very subtle, and we often have to rely on small clues to get a true picture of her. We know that she broke up with her last lover ten years before and that she is more comfortable working at home than at an office. This may be explained by the fact that she describes herself as “hefty,” “robust,” and “fat.” Not in the way a fashion model might think she has to lose a pound or two, but because Tyler is truly overweight. Yet she mentions this only in passing—never dwells on her weight issues. We also know that she is a recovering alcoholic who is often badly in need of a drink. The fact that Drury gives us no backstory on any of this is an omission that might be rectified in the two subsequent books about Tyler Jones.

Here’s another thing we know about Tyler but have no real backstory on: she has little use for men (except for her contact at the newspaper) and blames them for much of the violence that goes on in the world—especially against women. As she says, “I am, with reason, suspicious about men—especially when it comes to violence.” In fact, Tyler makes her living writing about the subject. She produces a weekly column for her newspaper and is writing a book-length oral history. And hey, Tyler is a writer who actually writes. We are not just told about a column, we get to read it, too. Likewise chapters of her book, which are convincing and heartfelt.

So does this mean that men won’t like this book? Umm. Many won’t, but that’s their loss. The history of feminism and the ongoing violence against women is a subject that everyone should take a serious interest in. The fact is, The Other Side of Silence is one of the most well-crafted mysteries I have ever read. It just continues to develop until the very unusual (but maybe not totally unexpected) ending. The fact that Tyler (and Drury, who was the editor and publisher of Spinster’s Ink for 10 years) have an important agenda is all the better.

The plot has to do with Tyler finding the body of a man in the park next to her house. The man happens to be a spouse abuser who once attacked Tyler physically when he found out that she was using her apartment as a safe house for his wife. Who would kill such a man? Everyone? Maybe it was Tyler herself—the police certainly think so. And of course to prove her innocence, Tyler has to uncover the perpetrator on her own. Unlike many books with this motif, however, Tyler’s experience and skill as a reporter gives her the tools she needs to actually investigate in a believable manner.

Oh, there’s a glitch or two, but they are so subtle it would be hard to prove they even exist. I’m willing to let them go and to give this novel a solid 4 stars. It certainly gave me reason to buy and read the other two novels in this series. It is one that should be on most people’s to-read list.

For more than 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Whitney D.R. reviews Goslyn County by AM McKnight

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This was a labor, and not one particularly of love.  I really wanted to read this because it was two black women, one a detective, the other an FBI agent–both lesbians– falling love as they solve a joint case.  I love a good cops/FBI crime book and then to add older Black lesbians, which is hard to find in the lesbian romance genre?  I expected to LOVE this.  SHOULD have loved this.

But this was just boring. Capitals B-O-R-I-N-G.

It was very realistic with regards to Maureen and Olivia. Two women just getting to know each other, going on dates, figure out each other’s likes and dislikes. I liked this aspect of the book a lot. Though I didn’t feel like their conversations were all that natural. I don’t know, maybe they were. It’s been awhile since I’ve progressed passed date three.   This isn’t a romance, really.  At least, it didn’t feel that way to me.  There was a crime to be solved and these two women just happen to be lesbians that start dating.  And maybe that was Knight’s intention.  Chapters go by before a first date, then a second and third, then we fast forward a month and two and they’re already in love.  What?  I needed more relationship development than that.  Especially when there was more focus on these idiot criminals than our main women.  

There wasn’t a single character that I was invested in, not even Olivia and Maureen.  There were too many points of view, too much head-hopping.  Too many players on the board, too many motivations.

I understand that Goslyn County was a crime drama, but the aspect of this plot was so dull I skimmed the majority of it.  You have a detective and an FBI agent teaming up on a case about the robbery of a crooked taxes preparation place? Snooze city.  There could have been a more exciting case.  Olivia and Maureen could’ve teamed up on a drug bust, since meth labs  were apparently so prevalent.  Or trying to catch a serial killer.  Hell, the perps could’ve committed a major heist of a bank or jewelry store and that would’ve been more exciting.  But all that for robbery and taxes when there wasn’t even a body count?  All criminals must be brought to justice, I guess, but I just couldn’t feel the “high stakes” of the chase to make me want to root for either bad guys or good guys.  

Honestly, the lack of high stakes suspense and the easy solutions were my biggest issues with reading this.

Susan reviews 1st Impressions by Kate Calloway

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First Impressions by Kate Calloway is the first in the Cassidy James series, about a lesbian private investigator hired to find out who murdered the most loathed man in town… by the prime suspect.

Cassidy James is our heroine, a former teacher who moved out to Cedar Hills and trained as a private investigator after her lover, Diane, died of cancer. Her best friend brings her the case of Erica Trinidad, a beautiful woman whose uncle was murdered and mutilated, which may or may not be connected to things like a break-in at the school (involving Nazi insignias) and a case of arson.

I did enjoy this one; the mystery was compelling and I enjoyed the way the main characters (particularly Cassidy, Erica, and Cassidy’s best friend Martha) bounced off each other; the escalation of incidents and the way it juggles mysteries of people’s pasts and the present conflicts works quite well.

The fact that both Erica and Cassidy have dead partners in their backstory (albeit under wildly different circumstances) surprised me quite a lot. While the deaths aren’t lingered on, if that’s a deal breaker for you then please bear it in mind. I would say that Diane’s death mainly seems to have left Cassidy James incredibly wealthy, which removes the usual motivator of “having to pay rent” from a private detective. But this does affect the tone! Cassidy’s pressure to succeed at the case is for the most part driven by personal satisfaction and Erica, which is quite a different experience to the books I usually read. In some ways, it actually feels like a hybrid between a PI mystery and a cozy crime mystery, in that it does the thing a lot of cozy crimes do, focusing a lot on the nature of the small town Cassidy lives in, the people she knows, and the food that she cooks. (I don’t know why cozy mysteries always seem to focus on food, but it makes me hungry, I can tell you that much.) The small-town aspect mainly manifests in everyone knowing each other’s business and being willing to share, and in the way that despite Cassidy having lived in town for three years she still feels like an outsider.

There were some aspects of the characterisation that I found really hard to believe; the villains of the piece are cartoonishly evil, and the supporting cast tends to be a bit one-note. (On the flip side, though, the kids are SUPER GREAT, I am very fond of Jessie and Mollie and would wholeheartedly endorse their crime-solving adventures.) Plus, there are parts of the ending that I struggle with, such as the Cassidy deliberately imperilling herself and Erica for the sake of her pet cats, or the author’s choice for who finally dealt with the murderer.

The prose is pretty good; there are some evocatively gross descriptions of corpses, as a fair warning, but for the most part it’s well-handled and the story manages to juggle high drama relationships with its mystery (despite all of the food breaks.)

I did very much enjoy reading First Impressions, and I’m looking forward to tracking down the second one.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Neo-Nazis, attempted rape, attempted incest, homophobia, backstory dead lesbians

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.