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Friday, June 19, 2015

Crooked House Sometimes Sluggish, Sometimes Surprising

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Crooked House, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Erica Coleman mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

When Megan Kemp calls Erica Coleman with a plea for help, Erica responds immediately.  She can't leave her best friend's daughter in the lurch, no matter how crazy Megan's story sounds.  And it does sound a little loony.  Megan, a sophomore at Delaware State University, is convinced someone is trying to kill her roommate, Liz Johnson.  After the deaths of her parents, Liz inherited a ramshackle old mansion aptly named Crooked House.  The recent victim of several "accidents," the young home owner seems to have become a target for someone with deadly intentions.  But why?  Has Liz's failure to restore her historic home finally pushed her impassioned neighbor over the top?  Is an angry ex-boyfriend out for revenge?  Or is Megan reading too much into a few unlucky mishaps?

As a former police officer and current private eye, Erica is in a unique position to help Megan and her roommates get to the bottom of Liz's recent misfortunes.  Leaving her police officer husband in charge of the kids at their home in Farmington, Utah, Erica moves in with the college girls at Crooked House.  Living with the roommates (while spoiling them with her scrumptious baking and obsessive cleaning rituals) gives Erica a chance to observe their goings-on firsthand.  Something fishy is definitely going on.  As Liz's "accidents" escalate in severity, Erica knows she must find out who's responsible for them—and quickly.  One person has already died.  Any one of the women at Crooked House could be next.  

While I'm not huge on cozy mysteries, I do appreciate a story that's both entertaining and clean.  So, when I read the plot summary for Crooked House, a new mystery by Marlene Bateman (Sullivan), I thought, why not?  Not realizing it's actually the third book in a series, I dove right in.  Maybe it's because I "met" Erica Coleman mid-series, but I didn't feel much of a connection to the obsessive-compulsive private investigator.  She struck me as a pushy, overbearing, annoying know-it-all.  I just didn't like her that much.  Plot-wise, Crooked House moves along fairly quickly, offering a few surprises here and there.  Prose-wise, however, the storytelling feels sluggish because of Bateman's over-reliance on telling rather than showing.  The inclusion of LDS doctrine in the story gives it a unique slant.  Although it's dropped in rather abruptly at times, the religious aspect never gets preachy, keeping the novel accessible to non-LDS readers.  Another fun element is the recipes included in the book; they sound different and delicious.  A winning combination, for sure.  Overall, then, I found Crooked House entertaining, if not wholly satisfying.  While I appreciated its PG-ness, its uncommon setting (not many novels are set in Delaware), and its yummy-sounding recipes, I would have liked tighter plotting, more dynamic writing, and a warmer, more likable heroine.  Crooked House can definitely be read as a stand-alone, but I think I would have enjoyed it more had I started with the first book in the series.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of the Sadie Hoffmiller culinary mysteries by Josi S. Kilpack [Lemon Tart; Pumpkin Roll; English Trifle; etc.])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and very mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of Crooked House from the generous (and patient!) Marlene Bateman.  Thank you! 
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Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

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The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain



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