Murder at the Arts and Crafts Festival
Cleo Mack #3
By G.P. Gardner
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
It’s late March in Fairhope, Alabama, and artists from around the country are flocking to the bayside town’s Arts & Crafts Festival. The annual tradition has something for everyone, only this year, the main attraction is murder . . .
Cleo Mack’s life has been a whirlwind since she inadvertently became the executive director of Harbor Village, a retirement community bustling with energetic seniors. Juggling apartment sales, quirky residents, and a fast-moving romance is tricky business. But on-the-job stress develops a new meaning when Twinkle Thaw, a portrait artist known to ruffle a few feathers, arrives unannounced for the weekend’s festival and drops dead hours later—mysteriously poisoned . . .
Twinkle’s bizarre death doesn’t seem like an accident. Not with a sketchy newcomer slinking around town and a gallery of suspects who may have wanted her out of the picture for good. As Cleo brushes with the truth, she soon finds that solving the crime could mean connecting the dots between a decades-old art heist and an unpredictable killer who refuses to color inside the lines . . . (from Goodreads)
This is the first novel I’ve read from this series, and it won’t be the last! It is a complex, challenging mystery with an eclectic group of energetic seniors and staff who I like and enjoy. The setting is fresh and fun, an active adult retirement community, located in Alabama, from where I’ve not read many novels.
Cleo first came to Fairhope to consider what she would do after retiring as a department chair in a social work program in Georgia. Her ex-husband Travis offered her the position as Executive Director at Harbor Village among this delightful witty and artistic group of active seniors. Her first, and best, friend at Harbor Village is Nita, who is now celebrating her 51st anniversary with her husband Jim. They introduced her to Riley, who she has been dating for several months and now wants her to move into the house he just purchased for them to live in. Nita and Jim, Riley and Cleo, and Katherine, mother of Harbor Village’s business manager, are going to celebrate the anniversary.
Cleo’s neighbor Georgina, an artist and retired art teacher, is having a small dinner party for her former students who arrived in town for the weekend’s Arts & Crafts Festival. Georgina’s sister Twinkle arrives in town a couple days earlier than planned and decides to join the dinner party. Katherine’s husband Solly is one of Georgina’s former students, so he will attend. Katherine chose to go to the anniversary dinner instead, since Twinkle had tried to break up their marriage a few years earlier.
Cleo and Riley seem to rarely have enough time together to talk about what’s going on in their lives other than the house he bought for them that he is now being remodeled at great expense because she hated it at first site. This weekend is the “big reveal” when the renowned decorator will be finished and Cleo can see it for the first time. Both Cleo and Riley have secrets right now – things they didn’t intend to keep from the other, but they simply haven’t had a chance to talk. Riley has been offered a consulting job that might take him away for several months, and Cleo has heard there might be interest in her to become dean of a social work school at a larger university.
When Cleo arrives home from the anniversary dinner, Georgina’s party with former students is already over. Her sister Twinkle suddenly became very ill, and the party broke up. Later that night, Cleo is up when her cat awakens her, and sees Georgina in the courtyard where the party had been set up. Georgina said she is taking Twinkle to the emergency room as she is getting worse. The next morning, a note was on her door that Twinkle died at the hospital.
Lieutenant Mary Montgomery makes several visits to Cleo and those who attended Georgina’s party as they believe Twinkle may have been poisoned. However, with many thousands of visitors in town for the weekend for the Festival, the police department has its hands full. Cleo’s hands are full as well, juggling her workload, extra tasks related to the Festival, and a mysterious, well-dressed woman who is seen on the property but seems to dash away when she sees Cleo. In the meantime, a murderer is on the loose and Cleo feels responsible for those who live at Harbor Village.
I enjoyed meeting everyone, and feel I got to know them well in this novel! While I have not read the first two in the series, the author has done well with current and historical information about the primary characters. I like Cleo, even though her personality is much different than mine, and it is clear her job is not at all easy. I also enjoy Nita and Jim; they are both fun to be around. Katherine is likable, and Jacques, the architect, brings excellent, fascinating information.
There are excellent plot twists that make guessing the bad guy difficult. The means of murder is unique, not a method most people would figure out. I admire how the author uses each of the friends to try to find who the killer at Harbor Village might be. I’m not sure how I feel about the end, however, or if the suspect is really the bad guy. I usually like resolutions tied up neatly, and several things seems to be left open. I do, however, appreciate how well-written the novel is written and recommend it for that reason, and I would certainly read another based on the complexity of the mystery and resolution.