Brought to you by OBS reviewer Laurie
Summer is a hectic time for Annie and her husband, Max. Sun and scorching temperatures never fail to bring swarms of tourists to their mystery bookstore, Death on Demand, for the latest beach reads. Not to mention the whole island is buzzing with excitement over the upcoming Broward’s Rock Fourth of July dance.
Shell Hurst is the kind of woman wives hate—for good reason—and most of them wish she would just disappear. But when she does—last seen walking into the pine trees during the Fourth of July fireworks display—Annie can’t help but feel like someone should be looking for her.
Annie and Max are soon following a twisted trail marked by blackmail, betrayal, and adultery, winding from the corridors of the island’s lovely inn to a pier lashed by pelting rain, to a gathering on the terrace of a country club where a trap is set for a calculating killer…
Carolyn Hart does an excellent job of writing a mystery lover’s mystery. Any mystery reader would love to have the cozy and caffeinated Death on Demand bookstore in their neighborhood. The daily management of the store is a significant part of the book, and there are numerous details to keep the regular mystery reader entertained. Annie regularly mentions the books that she recommends and stocks by title and author. Readers can follow along and see if they agree with her recommendations. The bookstore posts watercolor paintings of scenes from mystery books for the patrons to guess. This creates no small amount of competition among the patrons, and the reader gets a good enough description that she can guess too. Sadly, I was not successful in my guesses, but it was fun to see what the images referenced. Hart is also unafraid to poke fun at some of the more aggravating tropes in her genre. Emma Clyde, local mystery author and thoroughly obnoxious human being, thinks very highly of her own artistic merits, and writes books in which the protagonist disdains the local police. Watching Emma squabble with her closest rival Henny Brawley is most entertaining.
Beyond the bookstore Hart is skilled at evoking atmosphere. Every time someone took a sip of coffee or walked outside after a rainstorm I could feel the sensory experiences, more so than I find in other books. Set in the South Carolina Sea Islands, the weather is a constant presence, It’s almost a character in and of itself. Hart makes the reader feel the oppressiveness of the heat and the tropical atmosphere created by the rainstorms.
As for the particulars of the mystery of Shell Hurst, it is a classic case of victim as persona non grata. No one likes Shell. She’s the sort of woman other women hate: beautiful, nasty, and seduces men for sport. As with a mystery wherein no one likes the victim, the pool of potential perpetrators is deep. This book has many, many characters. At some points it is difficult to keep all of the characters straight. Hart is using many elements of the classic Agatha Christie model, and I would have appreciated a Christie-style cast of characters at the beginning. Annie and Max persist in asking questions, and the culmination of their investigation reads like a Poirot novel. I enjoyed this book, and look forward to the next.