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by Grace Topping
Henery, April 2019
249 pages
ISBN: 163511487X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Victoria Denton owns an old, large, cluttered mansion on top of the hill in Louiston. She wants (or needs) to sell it and her real estate agent has convinced her to hire someone to "stage" the house: make it more approachable and appealing to prospective buyers by making small and significant changes like decluttering, repainting, and the like. Victoria is also not known for being a big spender, so she opts to go with the new girl in town, Laura Bishop, rather than the pricier Monica Heller. Laura does have help, a talented young man named Tyrone, who has several part-time jobs. Victoria is not a nice woman, and she has some influence on a scholarship committee; Tyrone would really like to get that scholarship. He drops a vase, Victoria goes off on him, and suddenly the whole job gets a lot harder.

Laura is in the basement, poking through the plethora of stuff stored there for ages, when Victoria's body comes down through the large laundry chute and lands practically at Laura's feet. Victoria is quite dead. Did she somehow, in a house she's lived in for decades, forget about the chute and stumble to her death? Not likely. And not the case. Somebody killed her. The first, and to the police most obvious, suspect is Tyrone. He had just had a public argument with her and had no verifiable alibi. His grandmother knows he didn't do it, and enlists Laura's help to prove it. Laura does manage to find other people who might have had a motive and perhaps an opportunity. The police, with an obvious suspect, are not particularly interested in what Laura has found out.

Topping has found an occupation that lends itself to a series, which is a good thing when one is writing mystery fiction. Laura can go into all kinds of houses, all varieties of neighborhoods, all manner of situations with minimal stretching of the boundaries of imagination. What might be difficult to overcome, should this series take off, is the "Jessica Fletcher" effect - how many murders can one have around a business as personal as this without losing all word of mouth recommendations? Still, the opportunities abound. The small town setting will also serve a series well; local business owners can become ongoing peripheral characters with sub-plots that become part of Laura's journey. The tips serving as chapter headings are a good idea; one imagines there are more of those in the offing. While the solution may or may not be readily available, based on clues as given, the astute reader can get pretty close to figuring it out. Topping has done a good job of setting things up and leading a reader where she wants that reader to go.

§ 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, June 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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