Sunday, November 1, 2020

Library Loot Review: A Spell For Trouble

A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison is the first in a new cozy mystery series that I must have read about somewhere because I put myself on the wait list at work. When my turn came up the in the queue I literally lost all collective memory on why I requested it.  Once upon a time as a wee baby Super Librarian I primarily read mysteries, of all stripes but cozies were a favorite.  However, over time, I changed, cozies changed, and we parted ways.  Reading this book it finally hit me why as a Bitter Old Crone Reader I have such difficulty with this sub genre.  Cozies are to mysteries what Harlequin Presents are to romance.  That is to say, they live in an escapist niche.  Hey, nothing wrong with reading for escapist pleasure - we all do it at some point even if we won't admit it - but over time cozies stopped being my escape.  I'm still trash for Presents though - ahem.

Also, here's the other thing, I read cozy mysteries for THE MYSTERY just as I read small town romances for THE ROMANCE.  I am not here for the superfluous cutesy precocious crap. Any patience I had for such shenanigans fled the scene once I accepted the fact that I'm now a Bitter Old Crone Reader.  So why exactly did I put this book on hold?  No clue. Because it's set in a small town, there is cutesy crap, and Lord help us all - it's a paranormal cozy mystery.  Paranormal, typically, is not my thing.  That said?  I liked this.  No, really - I did.  It kept me entertained and the mystery is good.  A cozy that doesn't neglect the mystery?  I am HERE for this!

Aleksandra Daniels has just quit her high-powered risk assessment job in New York City.  Her mother died in a tragic accident when she was younger, and she was raised by a police officer father who kept her away from her mother's hometown of Bellamy Bay, North Carolina.  For "reasons." Well Dad is now gone, Alex doesn't have a job, and she's got family in Bellamy Bay she wants to reconnect with - an aunt (her mother's sister) and two cousins.  So he packs up her car, and her K-9 drop-out German Shepherd, Athena, and plans for a nice long visit.  Her Aunt Lidia runs the local herbal apothecary and Alex wants to learn more about her aunt's business.  Naturally it all goes sideways when a dead body turns up.

Randy Bennett is a local real estate developer who is down on his luck - his business is rocky, his marriage is heading to divorce court, so he stops by the apothecary to get some of Lidia's "good luck" tea.  The problem is Lidia cannot stand the man.  As in bad blood, long held grudge, cannot stand the man.  And she lets him know it.  In fact everyone in the store knows it because Lidia loses her temper is rather epic fashion.  Unfortunately later that night Randy is found dead, poisoned by the tea that he bought at the apothecary.  The handsome police chief that Alex was flirting with just hours earlier (and who asked her out on a date even!) promptly arrests Lidia and rumors start flying.  There's nothing for it.  The police have the wrong woman and having made the arrest seem disinclined to search for the true culprit.  So Alex starts snooping and unpacks a heaping helping of family and Bellamy Bay secrets.

It eventually comes out that Aunt Lidia, the cousins, and even some other town residents are Magicals.  Alex, while also Magical, has suppressed early childhood memories - and was raised as a Mundane (non-magical folk) by her father, who didn't want Alex to have any knowledge of her true identity.  There are reasons for this that are somewhat explored in this first book and I suspect will be fodder for future entries in the series.  Addison bases her world on the Mermaid of Warsaw - Alex's family being of Polish descent and water witches.  The author employs a light touch, it's different, interesting, and provides just enough world-building to intrigue without making my eyes glaze over.

Alex blunders around a bit like many amateur sleuths before, and does run off a bit halfcocked towards the end, but the author keeps the mystery humming and throws in a decent amount of red herrings.  There is some potential love triangle groundwork laid (ugh) but given revelations in the final chapters I don't think the author will be able to realistically sustain it in future books (at least for me - one corner of this "love triangle" does something beyond the pale).  But it does give our heroine more angst to fret over and question exactly who she can trust and what exactly doesn't she know about her own past and family history that the rest of the town seems privy too.  The ending is exciting and fast-paced, the villain suitably villainous, and Addison has laid just enough groundwork to build up future books in the series without drowning me in superfluous cutesy precocious crap.

If you're trash for cozies, pick this one up.  I'm not trash for cozies and liked this quite a bit - enough to pick up the next book in the series which is due out in July.

Final Grade = B


Jazzlet said...

One of my problems with cozies has been the reponderance of heroines doing really stupid things*, does Alex avoid this trap?

* Not just in cozies to be fair, but it seems to be a particular problem in too many of them.

Wendy said...

Jazzlet: Not really stupid things (IMHO) - but she does run off half-cocked at the end, and there's a few blind alleys she heads down where I was like, "Honey, they ain't the bad guy...." She's not perfect, but she's promising.