So during the first few pages of this book I happened to realize that I had accidentally picked up a book from the middle of the series. However reading the first few books in the series is not necessary to understand this story. I enjoy mystery novels where they have the same protagonist and life story/some characters that surround him/her, but don’t make you rely on reading the previous books to understand everything. I have undoubtedly spoiled myself, as I believe Liss and her husband Dan were not married at the beginning of the series. Nor was Liss the owner of Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium. Her friend Sharri may or may not have been the chief of police and married to Pete (another police officer), but well I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the books in the series to see how badly I’ve spoiled myself haha.
Liss’ old high school “friend” comes into town, and asks for a favor in the disguise of a vacation for Liss and Dan. Gina Snowe has become the new owner of a Christmas tree farm after her uncle disappeared 7 years ago, although she just tells Liss he has died and needs someone to assess if the farm is a money maker or not. Liss doesn’t really want to, but is strong armed into it by this so called friend. I have an idea this chick was one of those mean girls in high school and Liss was probably a lacky. There might even be a previous book about her, but well I haven’t read it so this is all I’ve got to go on from her character. Liss tells Dan and they head off to New Boston, Maine to the Christmas Tree Farm.
Once in town everyone starts giving them suspicious looks and whispers. They quickly find out Gina was not entirely truthful about what happened to make her the heiress of the estate. Apparently Gina’s uncle Simeon Snowe disappeared 7 years ago after a body was found amongst his recent shipment of Christmas trees to New York. He is now presumed dead and the estate can now be passed onto the heir.
During this trip Liss and Dan meet the caretaker, Andy. They find out this young woman has worked for Snowe since she was 16 years old, putting her at 23 when the story begins. She has been looking after the estate for all 7 years, and no one can figure out why. Since she was not getting paid it seems a very strange thing to do. They also meet a woman named Rowena, who happens to be Snowe’s girlfriend. She is the proprietress of an occult shop in town, and seems to be a bit out there. Liss and Dan learn that Rowena has had 5 husbands, all deceased, except the 5th…Is she a black widow? And then there’s Juliet, Rowena’s estranged daughter who owns a dance studio. She’s extremely aggressive and rude, and Sharri suspects there might be more to the operation than meets the eye.
Liss has a bum knee due to an injury as a Scottish dancer, and likes to exercise regularly. She goes into a dance studio and asks to take a week’s worth of lessons there. Juliet, the owner, is rude to Liss the whole time. She finds it odd that someone whose entire revenue lays in the hands of return customers would be that rude, but she brushes off her weird encounter with thinking that New Boston is like other small towns: not keen to outsiders. Liss and Dan then go to the store to stock up on more food, since the food Andy put in the cabinets at Snowe’s house are not exactly to their liking. Liss encounters the chief of police’s mother, who believes that Liss is snooping in the wrong areas. She defends her son, and throws Andy under the bus. She has read articles about Liss, and tells her she doesn’t like people who think they’re better than the police. Once everything is paid for Liss and Dan head to the truck, only for Dan to slip and hit his head on the door.
He’s rushed to the hospital. They diagnose him with a concussion, and tell him he cannot go home. He is on strict bed rest for what seems will be the rest of their vacation. Dan tries to get Liss to return, but she reminds him of what the doctor says and is now more intrigued than ever about the mystery. She has spotted on her clothes, where she kneeled to help Dan up, a stain of olive oil. Someone wanted him to fall! Liss compiles a list of people she talked to during the past two days and sends it to her friend Sharri.
We switch over to Sharri searching databases and Pete suggesting they go up to New Boston, since the both of them had a few days off coming up to help Liss out.
They show up, and Liss tells Sharri that she has not told Dan about her suspicions. She’s worried he will demand they go home, which would be detrimental to his health, but also her ego. Because she’s totally caught up in this mystery. Liss and Dan had also found on their first night out a maze made out of Christmas trees that they presume to be a present for Rowena. The maze is frightening. Liss and Sharri decide to check it out, but get nowhere with it.
Liss also goes to the aerobics class a couple times. She finds the girls nice, but strangely a couple of them only talk about sex. Sharri has a suspicion that this place is a front for a prostitution ring. The sketchy flier in the front window about private dance lessons, that only men seem to be taking up has sparked this train of thought. So Sharri goes around town and asks people if they both recognize the photo of John Doe and if they know anything about the dance studio. Only a cashier seems to remember him as a customer of Juliet’s. Some townspeople make comments that they know what has been going on, but don’t really care since it seems to be a harmless crime. Sharri tells Liss this, and Liss feels bad for Rowena. Especially since she knows that Simeon took private lessons with Juliet, presuming that he actually had relations with both mother and daughter.
That night the Christmas trees from the maze are set on fire…..The chief of police comes by and accuses the vacationers of arson like the scumbag he is. He demands they don’t leave town, since they are now persons of interest. Liss has a suspicion that Simeon might actually be at the middle of the maze, and low and behold he was. But why would someone burn the maze to reveal his body??
Liss tells Rowena about what happened. She is distraught, and talks about a storage unit for some reason. They go there, and find a dead body in a freezer. He is Rowena’s runaway 5th husband. She is accused of murder and taken in by the police. Now, I don’t know about you but something seems pretty fishy here. By this point in the book I’ve pretty much solved the crime but am waiting just to make sure.
The house is then set on fire in the middle of the night, and everyone must get out quick!! Liss sees a figures running in the woods and chases after it. She finds out it was Juliet, and pins her to the ground. The police come and all is revealed. Juliet killed the 5th husband, because he was a loser that just wanted Rowena’s inheritance. Then Simeon was killed, because he knew about her prostitution business and wanted her to come clean, and she thought he would be a great scape goat for the murder of John Doe. John Doe was killed, because he was a member of the mob, who wanted in on the prostitution activity. The chief of police was in on it by receiving payoff money and being in love with Juliet. He didn’t want to kill Liss and Dan so he just set the maze on fire. Unfortunately that backfired and led them to Simeon’s body.
Now this book for me was a 7/10. I love the amateur sleuth angle. I love small town settings, but there was just something lacking in this book. There was a great mystery, just not a great way to solve it. I pretty much pegged Juliet from the start due to lack of characters and motive. I didn’t know the chief of police had done some sabotaging, but he was really stupid about it. You would think someone smart enough to cover up criminal activities would be able to figure out that making someone get a concussion would not get them out of town. Also strange that after the fire he forced them to stay, when he just wanted them gone. Reverse psychology doesn’t really work when you’re under threat of arrest. What also didn’t tie in was the mob angle. Wouldn’t they be worried one of their guys disappeared?? Also how did they hear of prostitution in such a little town? How did Juliet’s mom never know? I don’t see why Juliet would keep dead husband number 5 around. It seems like a bad move, unless you’re going to frame your mom for murder. But barring her death, she wouldn’t get any inheritance if her mom went to jail. So basically minus 2 for plot. And minus 1 for character involvement. There are some great amateur sleuth in small towns books. I recommend the Mrs. Murphy series. Harry is a wonderful detective. So while this book may not be at the top of its game mystery wise, it’s still an enjoyable read. Especially around the Christmas season 🙂