Wednesday 8 March 2023

A Killer Read by Erika Chase

So, I would not call myself a cosy mystery fan. When it comes to murder and mayhem I fall somewhere in the middle between cosy at one end and gritty at t'other. Authors such as Louise Penny, Elly Griffiths, Nevada Barr attract me, not too much grimness in there to disturb my equilibrium but enough to thrill me a bit. That said, occasionally I do read a cosy and occasionally I get a surprise. 


Lizzie Turner lives in Ashton Corners, Alabama, where she was born and grew up. She's a reading specialist at a local school, helping teachers and helping pupils who're struggling  to read and not interested in books. Along with Molly, an elderly lady who's connected to Lizzie by being a friend of her mother's, she decides to start a new book club in the area - The Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society. Joining the club is Bob, a retired police chief, a lawyer friend of his, Jason, Sally-Jo, a teaching friend, several of the reluctant teen readers Lizzie's been coaching and so on. 

On the night of the first meeting at Molly's home all goes well until Molly and Lizzie suddenly realise they have an intruder. They go out into the hall and a man is there having just walked straight in. He asks to use the phone because his car has broken down. Neither of the women feel comfortable having him in the house as his behaviour is odd and this is borne out when he's killed within ten minutes of leaving - shot dead with a pistol. 

Chief of police in Ashton Corners is Mark Dreyfuss, he was Lizzie's crush at school and this makes her feel rather awkward. She has to get over it though as he's assuming a connection between the dead man and the book club, or, because it's Molly's house he came to, 'her' and the deceased. Lizzie doesn't think this is so and decides to move the investigation along by making enquiries of her own. Which of course makes her a target as she starts getting anonymous phonecalls in the middle of the night, asking her if she knows what story her journalist father was working on when he was killed years ago. And then someone starts to leave parts of a manuscript in her mailbox and the story therein reads like a memoir and is a real tragedy. What's going on? How can Lizzie and the group draw the threads of this complicated enquiry together and get some answers?

Ok, so A Killer Read  is my second book for March. I expected to love the first book and didn't, it was dull. So coming out of that I was looking for something with lots of characters of both sexes with different life experiences, different points of view and of varying ages. Real life! And I got it when I wasn't sure I would. 

How refreshing to have a main character whose love of books leads her to a career with books and young people. Her life is settled but not perfect, after her father died her mother went into a decline, neglecting Lizzie, still a child, and is now in a nursing home with dementia. The scenes where Lizzie and Molly visit are touching. So there is sadness in this book, and challenges. One of the teens Lizzie is trying to help is pregnant and clearly very afraid of something. Lizzie's male neighbour and landlord is clearly lonely, baking and looking out for her, and she realises this and is kind to him. It's nice. 

There's romance, a couple of them actually, but they don't overwhelm the main plot of the search for answers as to who the dead man was and what his connection to the town was. The dialogue is snappy and amusing, I loved all the baking going on and just the sense that these people supported each other and were trying to make life better for everyone. Uplifting, I would call the book. And I liked Lizzie and how she interacted with her friends, trying always to do her best but not always succeeding.

I gather the author, Erika Chase, is Canadian. How someone from Alabama would view the dialogue and its accuracy I wouldn't like to say. But as I'm not, I couldn't tell the difference and thought it was fine. I thought there was a decent but not strong sense of place, enough that I was content though. It did start rather slow and it wasn't until I was about a quarter of the way in that I thought, 'Oh... this is actually not bad!' I liked the mentions of other crime series, some of which I will look up, and I liked how each chapter started with a quote from a crime book by another author.

Of course, A Killer Read  being a book about books never harms and this is my fourth book for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Susan at  Bloggin' 'Bout Books. Book 2, Read and Buried, is already on my Kindle, it's set just before Christmas so that's probably when I'll read it. 

I hope you're finding some good books to read in March.


Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Your review is lovely and seems to evoke your genuine surprise that you enjoyed the book as much as you did! Of course, the fact that Molly and Lizzie both love books and reading, is an added bonus and that was sure to have roused initial interest in the storyline, I'm sure.

Like yourself, I am not a confirmed cosy mystery reader, as some of the series I have discovered, have just been a bit too far removed from reality for my liking. Having said that, there are one or two cosy series and authors I have become quite addicted to, so fitting in a new episode every now and then, is a genuine pleasure.

March has been quite slow reading so far, however a contemporary horror/thriller; a contemporary work of literary fiction; one of the aforementioned cosy favourites; and an Italian WWII saga/romance. So four completely diverse storylines, which is just how I like it.

Happy Reading and keep warm :)

Cath said...

Yvonne: Thanks for your kinds words! Yes, I've had some quite mediocre experiences with cosy mysteries to be honest and, although this sounded better, you can't always tell. It's nice that we both have found a couple of series in the genre that we like, another for me would be T.E. Kinsey's Lady Hardcastle and Flo books, which are saved from being too sacharine by the humour.

To be honest I think four books since March started is pretty good! And the books sound likewise. I like diverse genres and storylines too and can't read the same sort of thing over and over.

You stay warm too. We still have quite a lot of snow in the garden and on the surrounding hills.

Lark said...

I'm like you...I don't read a lot of cozies. I prefer more suspense and edge in my mysteries, but occasionally I stumble on a cozy that's just humorous and fun. And I love those. :D I'm glad this cozy mystery turned out to be one of those really good ones.

Cath said...

Lark: That's it! 'More suspense and edge'. Precisely. I think humour is a good hook for me personally, also a subject I'm interested in, like books, and then a cosy will have a lot more appeal for me.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm not a major fan of cosy mysteries myself, Cath. But I do really like the context of working to help students develop literacy (that's a big interest of mine). And the story does sound interesting. I'm glad you found it.

Cath said...

Margot: I had a feeling you weren't a great cosy fan either. This one was saved for me by the main character who was featured helping young students with book choices quite a lot. It was made clear how much she cared and I liked that.

TracyK said...

I am not a big cozy reader either but I think that the label cozy is like any other label, sometimes misleading. There can be a lot of variety within that label and a range of coziness from low to high. One of the series I have read the most books in, Jane Haddam's Gregor Demarkian series, was considered a cozy series when it started, still seems so to me, but at is now noted as
"reportedly not cozy" and I cannot remember why. Possibly the language or subject matter, it never even borders on thrills and gore. The latest cozy I tried was Julia Hyzy's White House Chef Mystery Series. And I am going to be trying Parnell Hall's Puzzle Lady Mystery Series soon.

It would be interesting to try a mystery set in Alabama written by a Canadian author. However, after living away from Alabama for over 40 years I don't know that I would be an expert on Alabama anymore. My southern accent always reappears when I am there, though.

Fanda Classiclit said...

Sounds like a charming book! More charming than exciting, perhaps, but hey.. every now and then we all need charms, right? ;)

Cath said...

Tracy: Yes, you're absolutely right, there are variations in cosy books just as there are variations in anything. And something like humour or cleverness can elevate a series right out of pure cosy into something else. An example of that for me is T.E. Kinsey's Lady Hardcastle books, those are funny and always have historical detail I find interesting.

Funny you should mention your southern accent reappearing when you return to Alabama. My Cornish accent does exactly the same when I go back to Cornwall to visit my relatives. It really amuses my husband.

Cath said...

Fanda: Oh, I don't know... there were exciting elements in A Killer Read, it wasn't all charm. LOL

CLM said...

I do enjoy books where the author or protagonist's appreciation of books is shared!

I am noticing on some older series that the library no longer carries book 1 which I find annoying.

Cath said...

Constance: Yes, I do too and something like that can turn a book into something I want to read rather than one I can ignore.

Yes, our library is the same although sometimes you can be lucky and some ancient copy is being held in Exeter or Barnstaple stacks.

Susan said...

I enjoy cozies as long as they don't get too silly or far-fetched. Sometimes I just like an easy, clean, not nightmare-inducing mystery to read.

Cath said...

Susan: For me they have to have something in them that I'm really interested in, such as books or knitting, something like that. Like you, I'm not great at far-fetched and silly. And I couldn't possibly live on a diet made up entirely of cosies.