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by V.M. Burns
Kensington, April 2018
271 pages
ISBN: 1496711831

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Samantha Washington owns a mystery book store in a fictional town in lower western Michigan, one with a strong college football team. Her tenant is Dawson Alexander, who has become her son in just about every way except legally. Dawson is a local football star with lots of potential now that he's pulled his grades up enough to be back on the tram. He's got a father, known as A-Square, who is a real piece of work. He's also got a girlfriend, Melody Hartwick; the general consensus is that she's after his future earning potential once he makes it into the NFL. She and Dawson have a pretty public falling out and shortly thereafter she's found dead. The obvious suspect is Dawson, and Sam is pretty sure the local police force won't look past the obvious.

Sam, in her copious free time (how small business owners in books manage to have any free time is amazing), is writing her second historical mystery. She also has some allies in her mission to clear Dawson. Nana Jo and her friends have a network of sources and resources at their command and they don't hesitate to use any and all of them. Dawson also has friends who want to help, although Sam is reluctant to place any of them in harm's way. Then there is the professor from England, who may not be much help in clearing Dawson and is more than willing to help Sam with details about English culture for her work in progress. The new restaurant owner down the street provides some romantic interest, with no little help from Nana Jo. Sam's sister Jenna is Dawson's lawyer, which is another plus as far as Sam is concerned; she knows how good Jenna is, and how determined.

Ms Burns has obviously spent time in a college town with a great football team; her descriptions of the ambiance and Zeitgeist are spot-on. Readers are expected to believe that Sam has enough qualified help to run a bookstore during her frequent absences, a reasonable request given that this IS fiction. Sam's friends and family are all believable if not always likeable (although most people know and/or have an A-Square in their life somewhere along the line). Long-time readers of the genre may have minimal trouble figuring out the culprit; it's still a pleasure to see how Burns gets Sam there. The toy poodles on the cover are in the book; they don't have a major role in the story and they are just as real as the people. This is the second in the Mystery Bookshop series; one hopes the third will be on the shelves reasonably soon.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, May 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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