Trouble on the Books

Castle Bookshop Mystery #1

By Essie Lang

ISBN 9781683319818

Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie


Essie Lang’s series debut is perfect for fans of Lorna Barrett, Vicki Delany, and book lovers everywhere.

Rookie bookstore owner Shelby Cox must hit the books to learn the ropes before she loses a killer in the stacks.

Shelby Cox never intended to become a bookseller, so when the former editor returns to her hometown of Alexandria Bay, nestled in upstate New York’s breathtaking Thousand Islands region, to take over her aunt’s bookstore, she has no idea what to expect. To her amazement, she discovers that she now owns a fifty-percent share in Bayside Books, and will also run the store’s second location in the majestic castle on nearby Blye Island.

But just as Shelby is gearing up for the start of the tourist season, the Castle volunteer coordinator is found murdered in the nearby Grotto. Castle caretaker Matthew Kessler is suspect number one, but Shelby thinks the killing may be connected to an earlier era, when violence among Prohibition-era smugglers was rampant in the region. As Shelby launches her own investigation, handsome and unnerving Special Agent Zack Griffin of the Coast Guard Investigative Services tries to quell her smuggling theory and keep her safe. But Shelby is determined to summon all her savvy as a book editor to plot the murder—and find the killer before he strikes again—in Trouble on the Books, Essie Lang’s clever and captivating series debut. (From Goodreads)


Trouble on the Books is the wonderful first in a new cozy mystery series! The setting in the beautiful Thousand Islands, New York and a satellite bookshop in a castle, is magnificent. Shelby and her Aunt Edie are delightful, intelligent ladies, and the mystery promises at least a late night or two trying to solve. Character development is excellent, and the plot is masterfully executed.

Shelby Cox is part owner of Bayside Books, in beautiful Alexandria Bay, New York, and the satellite shop in Blye Castle, on Blye Island. Shelby has taken an extended leave of absence from her position as an editor for a small publisher in Massachusetts, as Aunt Edie is recovering from knee replacement surgery. For the first time, Shelby will run the shop at the Castle, and learn as much as she can from Aunt Edie’s close friend and employee, Trudy, at the main store. She is renting a houseboat to live on during the summer, and an amber cat has adopted her.

Loreena Swan oversees several areas at Blye Castle and stopped in the book shop to criticize the day before the summer’s Grand Opening. They exchanged heated words, which Loreena promptly reported to the Heritage Society, who owns the island. Loreena is not well-liked, especially by the volunteers she oversees at the castle.

While waiting for the shuttle that would take her back to the mainland that afternoon, Shelby takes a short walk around the island. When going into the Grotto, well-known for the rumrunning done there during Prohibition, she noted a flash of red plaid going by in the trees. She then hears what sounds like a motorboat, and as the water in the grotto ripples, she sees fabric the color of what Loreena was wearing that day in the water, with a lifeless Loreena still wearing it.

Matthew is caretaker of the castle and grounds, and the island’s only year-round resident. Due to some unresolved challenges from his life before moving to the area, the police chief seems to want to find him guilty of this murder, taking him in several times for questioning. Aunt Edie asked for Shelby’s help to listen and learn what she could about what is going on at the island so her friend won’t be railroaded for something he didn’t do. Suddenly several people look like good suspects but the police chief doesn’t act interested. The Coast Guard Investigative Service has a Special Agent keeping up with the case, Zack Griffin. Due to the Coast Guard involvement, Shelby wonders if there is a smuggling ring on the island – why else would they be interested in a murder? As Shelby begins asking questions, however, things start heating up for her, especially when someone tries to loosen the ropes holding her houseboat to shore…

I felt a kinship of sorts with Shelby, even if she wasn’t overly fond of pets at first. We have some similar likes and fascinations, enough to already look forward to the next in series. Character development is excellent; each person is built as needed, scene by scene. Shelby and Edie’s good instincts about people are a great help, also. I was surprised and impressed as the story progressed how Shelby was able to talk with people and ask questions in a way that seemed to go against her character, but it works. There is added angst due to Shelby trying to learn more about her mother, who died mysteriously when she was three and nobody wants to talk about.

The setting is one that I would love to see. The grotto and castle add to the mystique of the island and the murder without adding paranormal elements.  The plot is well-crafted, with twists that added or subtracted suspects at random. When I was almost finished, I still had no idea who the real killer was, and just a guess of what the motive could be. I was surprised to see how the mystery wrapped up, and was overall satisfied with the end. I highly recommend this to those who love books and bookstores, historic architecture, and very likable characters.

*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*