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by Laura Alden
Obsidian, July 2011
320 pages
ISBN: 0451234081

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Beth Kennedy is heading into the busiest time of the year for any business owner/single mom: Thanksgiving through Christmas. The first big dinner is at her house this year. She has to fire one of her employees, a woman who is SO not carrying her weight. She has to get all the Christmas stock out by 2pm on a specific day - it's a holiday tradition in Rynwood, Wisconsin. Factor into this mix her duties as secretary of the Tarver Elementary School PTA and one can understand that Beth might be just a wee bit stressed.

It gets worse. Doesn't it always? Her ex-husband loses his job. The woman she hires to replace the one she fired turns out to be an (innocent) ex-con. Sam Helmstetter is strangled with his scarf in his vehicle after a PTA meeting. Beth ticks off a fellow PTA officer, who decides to get back at Beth by picketing her bookstore because the ex-con is working for her, and the ex-con isn't a good influence on the kids. Between everyone expecting her to look into Sam's murder, and the financial implications of not proving her ex-con didn't kill Sam, Beth has no choice but to try and find the killer. Her buddy Marina is more than willing to help her; Marina is always up for an adventure.

Alden's second book in the PTA series is a good follow-up to her Agatha-nominated MURDER AT THE PTA. Beth's problem with Sam's murder is quite the opposite to her previous case. The last victim was thoroughly disliked by almost all who knew her. Not so with Sam Helmstetter. Everybody liked Sam. His marriage was fine. His business was fine; he got along well with his partner. He hadn't really ticked anybody off in decades. So who killed him, and why?

Alden's characters continue to grow and change, although at a reasonable pace. The plot is good. The author has a knack for showing the reader all the nuances and rivalries that manifest themselves in the oddest ways in a small town. She can also write about family dynamics with all their permutations in a way that resonates with readers. If Alden continues this series as she's begun it, cozy readers will have something to look forward to for a long, long time.

P.J. Coldren lives in northern lower Michigan where she reads and reviews widely across the mystery genre when she isn't working in her local hospital pharmacy.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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