Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass
Exotic Pet-Sitter, Book #1
By Heather Day Gilbert
Author Website: heatherdaygilbert(.)com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
When exotic pet-sitter Belinda Blake moves into a carriage house in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, she’s hoping to find some new clients. Instead she discovers a corpse in the garden—and a knack for solving murders . . .
Pet-sitter Belinda Blake doesn’t rattle easily, but move-in day has been eventful, to say the least. The python in her care tried to slither to freedom—just as she met Stone Carrington V, her landlords’ disarmingly handsome son. With the constrictor back in its cage, she heads out to the garden, only to discover a designer shoe poking out of the boxwood hedge—attached to a woman’s dead body.
The victim, Margo Fenton, was a Carrington family friend, and no one in their circle seems above suspicion. Between client trips to Manhattan and visits to her family in upstate New York, Belinda begins to put the pieces together. But though she’s falling for Stone’s numerous charms, Belinda wonders if she’s cozying up to a killer. And soon, daily contact with a deadly reptile might be the least dangerous part of her life . . . (Goodreads)
This novel is a great first offering in a new cozy mystery series starring an exotic pet-sitter, Belinda Blake. I like the well-rounded characters, each endearing in their own way, and the early winter New England setting. The mystery is fresh and a challenge to solve, and the pet being cared for is…different.
Being a pet-sitter has an appeal to we animal lovers. To me, a feisty Fido or finicky feline would be fun to care for. But a ball python – as in, a snake – nuh uh. By the end of the novel, however, Rasputin has an undeniable value. Belinda Blake is an introvert who enjoys having time by herself. She began her exotic pet-sitting business in Manhattan, and recently moved into the carriage house of a wealthy family in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she is focusing her next marketing efforts. As she finishes her move, she is sitting for Rasputin, whose owner is visiting family for a couple weeks. She will spend time both in his home in NYC and also take Rasputin with her to her new home. One of the first things I learned is how she takes the reptile for a walk. During that walk, she met the youngest member of the Carrington family, Stone the fifth, who is about her age and seems like a genuinely nice guy.
Later, she decides to see the garden outside the carriage house and pull a few weeds. While she doesn’t have to do so, she enjoys getting her hands in the dirt…until she finds the remains of a young woman who is probably close to her age. Right. Outside. The. Carriage. House. The woman is identified as a friend of Stone the fifth, Margo. She appeared to have been strangled, and has only been there since the night before, when Belinda was thankfully in Manhattan. Stone V had a regular billiards get-together the evening before but doesn’t remember anything different about Margo. There wasn’t anyone new at the gathering, either.
Belinda will take Rasputin back to Manhattan the next day for another overnight at his owner’s home. While there, Stone the fifth wants to know if she will go with him to visit modern artist Dietrich Myers, Margo’s ex-long-term boyfriend. Dietrich had been there on billiards night, so Stone hopes to learn if she had plans after the game night. Dietrich wasn’t much help, so the visit was brief. Stone and Belinda make plans for other visits, but the only thing uncovered is that Margo was seeing a guy that she couldn’t tell anyone about. Her best friend assumed he was probably married or well-known and knew that there were problems that kept her in tears.
Belinda made the offer to Margo’s mother to clean any dirty dishes or other trash from Margo’s room at her parent’s home so her mother wouldn’t have to face going in there for a while. Belinda found a couple things of concern, one necessary to tell Margo’s mom about. Belinda receives a threat that almost takes her off the case. Other people start to seek out Belinda with other information that led Belinda to wonder about Stone as a suspect. In any event, Belinda is quickly in over her head, especially when a second young woman is found, also outside the carriage house.
The characters are very well-defined; I felt as if I knew Belinda well in a short time. Her sister, Katrina, parents, and friends of the murder victims are mostly likable even if a bit eccentric. Belinda shared what she has learned about caring for ball pythons and how well she researches exotics new to her. It was good to see how other introverts spend their time!
This first in a new cozy series is frightening yet lively; it grabbed me from the beginning and held my attention throughout. Plot twists continued to change the suspect list. There were clues that led to two people to consider as prime suspects at different times, until police were intent on proving a third. The real murderer was somewhat of a surprise, only because I didn’t quite get all the motives. There are some good and some interesting surprises at the end, and I am looking forward to the next in the series! I wouldn’t mind even seeing the python again…maybe. I highly recommend this marvelous first; and be sure to check out the dedication when you read it!