First in a new series, Guidebook to Murder shows promise, but started off a bit wobbly at the beginning for me.
Jill has left behind a bad marriage and her career as a family law attorney to open a bookstore/coffee shop in the little tourist town of South Cove. A local friend, Miss Emily, is fighting the town council and a developer, trying to keep her house; she's let the house get run-down though, and the mayor is threatening to condemn it as a way to get ahold of her property to build condo's. When Jill stops in to check on her, she finds Miss Emily dead. Grieving the loss of her first friend in South Cove, Jill finds out she inherits everything and that it's not a small sum, in spite of outward appearances. But someone really wants her out of the house and is quite ambivalent about whether it's by her own two feet or in a body bag.
So, the characters. I think I like Jill. It's hard to say because from the beginning (the death happens quickly in the story), Jill is overwhelmed: by sadness, by her inheritance, by what she's learning about her friend Miss Emily and the life she led, by trying to keep her business afloat and at the same time, do what's necessary to keep Miss Emily's house (now her own) from being condemned. The author does a great job portraying Jill as a woman trying to keep it all together without making her a martyr. The loss of Miss Emily was emotionally written and I got a bit teary - which I hate but was still done well and with a thankfully light touch. Jill has another close friend, Amy, who I think will be very likeable, but while she plays a part in the plot, we don't see much of her at all to get to know her. Jill's Aunt Jackie comes to help, and while she started off a bit pushy and unlikeable to me, she become more likeable as the story progressed.
This next bit is a tiny bit spoiler-ish - not to the plot, but to the character development and I mention it because it's the one area I just did not understand and why this read was a 3.5 star and not a 4. The romantic interest is Detective Greg King. Blond, blue-eyed, beautiful, he seems to be quite interested in Jill and Jill is pretty damn interested in him. But then she meets his brother, who mentions Greg's wife. So, Jill decides he's off-limits. But he spends all his time with her and it's obvious to anyone reading the book he's not just there to protect her against death threats. Jill's ready to give in several times and here I say kudos! to the author for making Jill a human being instead of a saint. Is it right to contemplate kissing another woman's husband? No. Does that mean it never happens to good people? No. I like that Jill is written to be subject to moral dilemmas. But here's what I don't understand: she NEVER says anything to him about being married! She acts like it would be insulting to him or embarrassing to her to say "Hey! You're brother mentioned you have a wife. What's up with that?" This goes on for most of the book and it drives me nuts.
As for the murder plot, I have to say, the plotting of cozy mysteries has really taken a turn for the better lately, or maybe I've just been lucky. After a streak of books where I had the murderer correctly pegged in each one, I've been reading some excellently planned murders recently. This one is no exception. Miss Emily had a much broader life that Jill knew and it's garnered a varied list of suspects from dissatisfied heirs, to the mayor, to the possibility of treasure hunters. There's a bit of everything here and ultimately, the murderer was a surprise. A detail or two of the plot were a bit unrealistic, but nothing that ruined the enjoyment of the story overall.
By about halfway through the book I was hooked and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning to finish it - always a good sign of an enjoyable book, and I'll be on the look-out for the next one.
I received this ARC from NetGalley and Kensington in exchange for an honest review.