****A Hole in One

Golf Clubs

photo: Susanne Nilsson, creative commons license

By Judy Penz Sheluk – In this charming cozy mystery set in a small town north of Toronto, Canada, Arabella Carpenter decides to promote her Glass Dolphin antiques shop by sponsoring a hole in one contest at a local charity golf tournament. The prize: a pricy jet ski. All good fun until she hits her ball into the woods, and amongst the trees finds not her golf ball, but a dead body.

The victim, killed by a gunshot to the chest, is the estranged father of Arabella’s ex-husband, Levon Larroquette. The two men were so estranged that Arabella never met her ex-father-in-law. But she has seen him. He and Levon were arguing in the park just a few days before the tournament. Arabella still has feelings for Levon, and precisely how strong those feelings are is revealed whenever he encourages her to join him in drinking a little too much cognac.

Levon might have flaws as a husband, but Arabella is convinced he’s no killer. Worried that her information has made him appear more guilty, she’s determined to clear Levon’s name by investigating the murder herself, with the help of her business partner Emily, a former investigative reporter.

This is the second in the Glass Dolphin mystery series, in which Arabella and Emily boldly go where, maybe, they shouldn’t, as some of the information they turn up seems to implicate Levon even further. Their inquiries give author Sheluk the opportunity to introduce a sizeable cast of interesting, often amusing characters, with their tidbits of information and propensity for creating confusion: an Elvis impersonator, potential romantic interests for both Arabella and Emily, a vengeful local newspaper editor and reckless blogger, and an antique dealer going out of business who has sad secrets of her own.

Sheluk is an antiques expert herself and currently editor of the New England Antiques Journal. Writing with a light touch, she has a knack for inserting just the right amount of intriguing details about antique items, the antiques market, or running a small business. That information gives the story a nice grounding in reality, even as the plot twists and turns.

A Hole in One is thick with dialog, with the banter between the two women full of good humor. You may not doubt that they will succeed, almost despite themselves, but the fun is in seeing how they go about it as their theories—and the bodies—pile up.

 

***Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery

Crystal Ball

photo: Jeffrey, creative commons license

By Judy Penz Sheluk – Thirty years ago, Abigail Barnstable disappeared, leaving behind her young husband Jimmy and six-year-old daughter Callie. Raised by her doting father, Callie reaches her mid-thirties oblivious to a mountain of family secrets until Jimmy’s death in an industrial accident starts her on a path of discovery. Callie narrates this present-day cozy mystery by Canadian author Sheluk, set in the fictional town of Marketville, an hour north of Toronto.

The first surprise is in her father’s will. Not only does Callie inherit a house in Marketville, he leaves her $100,000 to fix it up. The catch? She has to quit her dead-end job in a bank call center fraud unit and move into the house for a year. Renovation will be a major undertaking, but her father also left her a connection with the building contractor living next door—a handsome single man named Royce, eager to help Callie develop her fix-up plans.

Oh, and while she’s living there, Jimmy wants her to try to find out what happened to her mother. It seems the police at the time suspected foul play—and Jimmy—but nothing was ever proved. The bequest may be his way of asking her to clear his name. Once Callie takes up residence she encounters a series of intriguing puzzles and clues. I enjoyed muddling along with her as she tried to figure out what they mean and who left them. Though occasionally, Sheluk’s dialog is a little stiff, she moves the plot along briskly, keeping Callie’s ingenuity on high alert.

Callie reaches out for help from a number of colorful characters, including two who claim psychic abilities. (One of them—Callie’s long-time friend and operator of the Glass Dolphin antique shop, Arabella Carpenter—features in Sheluk’s previous mystery, Hanged Man’s Noose, also published this year.) Callie’s never quite sure how much she can trust some of her new confidants, and people keep telling her to “be careful.” While you may never believe Callie is in any physical danger, the risk to her emotional health from mucking around in thirty years’ worth of carefully kept family secrets is significant.

The romantic risk is also real, when Royce’s family turns out to have some pretty big skeletons in its closets too. You’re left to speculate how their budding relationship may play out, because at the end of the book, all possibilities are open. If you like a tidy ending with all questions wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow, this isn’t that. Yet, Sheluk has described her principal characters so well, you may feel, as I did, that you can see into this particular crystal ball.

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.