Two Net Galley reviews to post this week, both with promise and both with Penny's, but neither without their problems.
Murder on the Hour by Elizabeth J. Duncan This is the seventh in the Penny Brannigan series, but the first that's come across my nightstand. There were a lot of things to like about this book: the setting: a small town in Wales, typical of the Golden Age of Mysteries that I so adore; numerous secondary characters, well crafted and fleshed out; tight plotting and pace; a trendy back story: an Antiques Roadshow-type traveling tv show for Welsh TV is in town and everyone is dragging their family heirlooms to the manor to be appraised.. A slightly unusual twist--we meet the victim very early and get to sympathize with her; I was very sad when she was murdered as I'd hoped we'd get to learn more about her. The few things I didn't like: Penny is just too perfect. I wanted to like her; she's just over 50, still working, single and dating; except for the dating part, she could be me. But she's too chic, too perfect, and I found it hard to really see the story through her eyes. At one point, instead of surreptitious snooping (what we expect in our amateur detectives), her questioning came across as just nosy and prying. And the typos! I have no idea how long this galley was available, and therefore how long before I read it that the copy had been set, but the fourteenth typo was the number for a chapter: Thrity. Yes, thrity. C'mon, folks, thirty is not an unusual word in the English language. Does nobody at the publisher use spellcheck? All in all, I like the series for the setting and the support characters, and will look for more. Perhaps Penny is warmer and more real in other titles.
Murder on the Half Shell by Shawn Reilly Simmons Another Florida mystery for me, this is the second in the Red Carpeting Catering series. First the pluses: the author did a fine of setting the scene--I felt like I was on an island in Florida (there's an awful lot of condensation on glasses and people in this novel). The plot was fairly tight, with few extraneous or unnecessary scenes, and overall the pace was good. The downside: again, I'm just not crazy about the main character. I understand she's got a reputation and a business license to protect, so lecturing her underage servers on their time off about drinking is understandable, but it felt stiff and preachy. The romance with Joey fell flat: she spends the night at his hotel, but the day before, when they both change into swimsuits, they each go into the bathroom to change. Why even mention this? All it did was underscore what I saw as a lack of intimacy between two people we are repeatedly told are a couple. Their big romantic scene at the end felt like a middle schooler asking a girl to go steady with him. Now, I am not one for lots of sex or steamy mysteries, but if there is a romance, I want it presented realistically and this one didn't cut it for me. And FYI, Ms. Simmons, there is no NJPD, or New Jersey Police Department, as she later tells us. There are municipal police departments in every city and township, and there are New Jersey State Troopers, but Joey, a homicide detective, would work for a city PD. I haven't read the first novel, so don't know if Ms. Simmons has set Penelope in a fictional town in NJ or a real one, but yikes, what a glaringly stupid or naive statement to make repeatedly. The usual problem with typos and inconsistencies: e.g., on one page, Penelope "polishes off her beer," and on the next page, she takes a sip of her beer. Am I likely to read the first novel in the series? Nope, and even if I come across it with nothing interesting awaiting me on my Kindle Voyage, I'll likely skim it really fast just to see how badly she portrays my old home state, NJ.