Muddled Through

Maine Clambake Mystery #10

By Barbara Ross

ISBN 9781496735690

Author Website: barbararossauthor(.)com

Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie


Mud season takes on a whole new meaning in the coastal town of Busman’s Harbor, Maine, when local business owners sling dirt at one another in a heated feud over a proposed pedestrian mall. Vandalism is one thing, but murder means Julia Snowden of the Snowden Family Clambake steps in to clean up the case . . .

When Julia spots police cars in front of Lupine Design, she races over. Her sister Livvie works there as a potter. Livvie is unharmed but surrounded by smashed up pottery. The police find the owner Zoey Butterfield digging clay by a nearby bay, but she has no idea who would target her store. Zoey is a vocal advocate for turning four blocks of Main Street into a pedestrian mall on summer weekends. Other shop owners, including her next-door neighbor, are vehemently opposed. Could a small-town fight provoke such destruction? When a murder follows the break-in, it’s up to Julia to dig through the secrets and lies to uncover the truth. (Goodreads)


I enjoyed meeting Julia, her family, and her friends in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. There is something special about Mainers that invites the reader, even those From Away, into their towns and lives. I appreciate the sense of community the folks have despite their differences and how one usually knows where they stand with each other.

Julia has been recovering from breaking up with Chris, the man she lived with after returning to Maine. She manages the Snowden Family Clambake during tourist season. Her sister Livvie and brother-in-law Sonny oversee all the cooking for the Clambake and their mother manages the gift shop. They hope to have major renovations finished before the new season begins.

Julia doesn’t have an off-season job, so she currently lives with her widowed mother. Her sister Livvie is a talented potter who works for Zoey at Lupine Designs during the off season. They design and make upscale ceramics of all kinds to sell in their storefront, online, or by special order. Julia was leaving her mother’s one morning and saw police cars outside Lupine Designs. Frightened for Livvie, she hurried over to learn that when her sister arrived to open the store, every piece of ceramic in the storefront was shattered with cabinets and shelves overturned. Zoey, who lives in the upstairs apartment, had gone out to dig for local clay for some of her needs. Childhood friend and police officer Jamie drove Lily to where Zoey was digging where there was no cell phone reception.

Julia, Zoey, and many townspeople attended a public hearing that evening regarding a new plan for summer tourist traffic to the local shops. Zoey is a proponent of the pedestrian mall, but some of the older, long-term townspeople are against it. Phinney, the older man who has a small storefront in the same building as Zoey, is loudly opposed to it. He and his friends are against any kind of change, especially if Zoey is for it. Since Zoey moved into the building and did major renovations for her business, they have battled every little thing, almost every single day, for more than three years. They had a nasty disagreement that night at the hearing, resulting in the discussion being tabled and the hearing being shut down.

The next morning, a distressed Livvie called Julia, who literally ran to find emergency vehicles around the shop again. The medical examiner was there, and she had just called in the state ME. Due to the circumstances, she could only pronounce the person inside dead and leave the rest for the state police. Livvie and Zoey found Phinney in their shared basement, brutally murdered. Just as with the vandalism the day before, there was no evidence of someone breaking into either shop. With Zoey being the only person there overnight, and after their public blowup, she is the main suspect.

Julia has helped the state police solve murders in the past, and Livvie wants her to do so again. Reluctantly, she gave the matter thought, even though she knows Sergeant Flynn and Lieutenant Binder will investigate the murder thoroughly. They discovered that when Zoey was a teenager, she went home one day and found her mother dead, murdered in a very similar fashion. The man convicted and imprisoned is still incarcerated, so Flynn and Binder took a much closer look at Zoey.

I enjoyed this wonderful cast of characters, some more eccentric than others. Many could step out of the pages into real life, so well are they described. I think it is fun to have Julia and her mother, neither one of them into food preparation of any kind, with principal roles in the family business. My favorite characters are Julia, Zoey, and Alice, an octogenarian known by most people in the area but new to Julia. I was fascinated to learn about Alice’s photography career and Zoey’s pottery studio and shop.
Plot twists kept me guessing throughout. I enjoyed watching the friendship between Julia and Zoey grow even through their disagreements. There is just the right balance of humor and high tension. I enjoy novels set in Maine as they often show ruggedly beautiful scenery and share interesting history; I found that and much more in this novel. The author crafted a mystery that held my attention, and I was fully engaged with the characters and murder. I was startled, yet saddened, to see who the killer really was. The end was perfect and left no loose ends. I highly recommend this intriguing cozy mystery!