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by Elizabeth Penney
St Martin's Paperbacks, December 2019
288 pages
ISBN: 1250257948

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Elizabeth Penney has written more than two dozen cozy mysteries, and HEMS & HOMICIDE proves that Penney knows the recipe for delivering just what cozy readers are looking for.

Set in Blueberry Cove, a small town in Maine, HEMS & HOMICIDE is the first book in the Apron Shop mystery series starring Iris Buckley and her recently widowed grandmother. Iris and Anne are set to open a vintage and handmade linens shop on Memorial Day, but they have a lot to do, including fixing up the old building that will house their store. While doing that, Iris discovers a skeleton in the basement, and Anne recognizes the scarf it's wearing as belonging to an old friend from the 1970s. Soon, Iris, Anne, and all of Iris's friends, as well as some not-so-friendly characters, are digging through Anne's past to find out who murdered Anne's old friend. This leads to discoveries of past romances and jealousies, as well as some wild times in the senior generation's past that Iris and her friends find hard to imagine. When Anne finds their landlord dead in the store with an apron tied around his neck, her position as prime suspect for both murders is solidified, and Iris has to scramble to deflect suspicion from her grandmother while working to be sure their store will open on time.

Centered on small-town relationships and a vintage linens business that involves trips to antiques stores and old hope chests, HEMS & HOMICIDE has plenty of quiet charm to entice cozy fans, but all cozy readers know that small-town appearances are deceptive, and Blueberry Cove is no exception.

Friendships are tested, age-old roles are upended, and the uncovered past reveals secrets that some would rather keep hidden. Overall, there are enough red herrings and plot twists to keep the reader guessing, and Iris and her grandmother are strong enough characters that they're worth spending time with. The story is plot driven rather than character driven, so the supporting characters don't have a whole lot of depth. They're all likable enough, though, and with some hints of romance to come, they promise to be around for future books in the series where they'll perhaps gain more distinctive characteristics. In the meantime, HEMS & HOMICIDES is a fun, light read for a winter weekend when images of sun-sparkled ocean, spring flowers, and a bit of mystery are welcome distractions.

Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, December 2019

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