In Murder on the Half Shelf by Lorna Barrett, Tricia Miles goes with her sister to a pre- opening weekend at the Sheer Comfort Inn with her sister, Angelica. When Angelica sneaks her terrier, Sergeant, into the B&B, Tricia ends up taking the little guy for a walk to use the bush, and Sergeant starts poking around the yard, only to discover the body of Pippa Comfort, the owner of the B&B. As Tricia’s semi- boyfriend, Police Chief Grant Baker, starts to grill her about her having found her fourth body, Pippa’s husband finally resurfaces after having taken off for a couple hours. Tricia is astonished to recognize a man who was supposed to be dead. Her first lover, best- selling author Harry Tyler, has come back from having disappeared in a boat wreck and being declared dead.
Murder on the Half Shelf is the sixth book in Barrett’s Booktown series, and it seems that each book improves over the previous. I found myself gripped by the plot and the characters, but especially the community of Stoneham. The book kept me guessing about the identity of the murderer, and I found the solution satisfying. It also has plenty of vividly drawn scenes, such as Tricia’s war with Pixie, the new ex(?)-hooker receptionist of Grace, who administers a charity. When Angelica appears in a cooking demonstration on a new local television station, I could smell the scents and hear the noises as well as see the scene.
However, what I love most about Barrett’s writing, both in this series and in her Victoria Square series, published under the name of Lorraine Bartlett, is her gift for building up an entire community around the main character. Besides Tricia, we feel that we personally know such characters as Tricia’s sister, Angelica; the elderly bookstore employee and his generous wife, Mr. Everett and Grace; and Angelica’s sometime- boyfriend, Chamber of Commerce president Bob. The relationship between the sisters strikes us as genuine, showing real love between them but also the conflict of siblings. Stoneham feels that it has become our own hometown, a place of good as well as bad but where everyone knows each other.
The series breaks with convention for cozy mysteries in having the protagonists date unreliable men instead of creating a situation of the woman and good man being kept apart. In this book we find ourselves wanting the women to find better men, even though we don’t identity the better men we want to root for.
Murder on the Half Shelf has a new narrator in the audio edition, switching from Cassandra Campbell to Karen White. There were a couple scenes with inconsistencies in some of the words, such as changing the name of Angelica to Angela and merging Tricia with Pixie to say Trixie. However, overall, I was pleased with the performance, as White brings the book to life in evoking the senses that Barrett writes so effectively.
I really enjoyed listening to Murder on the Half Shelf and visiting Stoneham again with Tricia and all the residents. The book seems very genuine and is full of lively incidents, some of which relate to the mystery, but others of which serve the purpose of making us connect to Stoneham. I heartily enjoyed this book and look forward to listening to the next one. I give this book five stars.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free for review purposes, but that had no effect on the content of my review.
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