We're still social distancing so better make the best of it and pick up a good book! This one will be released on Dec. 29th
I received an e-ARC from Crooked Lane Books through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and not affected by the giveaway.
Emma Reed and her Corgi Oliver are exploring the charming Cornish village of Trevena where they hope to make their home. Emma has dreams of opening her own tea shop and Oliver is eager to chase foxes away from his special human. Emma does not expect to encounter the village crank, Victoria Roberts, a woman who does NOT like dogs and owns half the village, including Penhallow's, the old tea shop Emma hopes to reopen. She worries Victoria won't let her rent Penhallow's. Emma decides to bring over a peace offering of scones to discuss renting the shop but when she arrives, she discovers Victoria lying dead on the floor. Oliver suspects something unnatural killed Victoria but being canine, he can't express what is is in human terms. Some kind of flowers in the tea? The village is abuzz with gossip about Victoria's death. Who DIDN'T want to kill her, aside from her friend Louise? Another visitor, Parker Taite, a writer, encourages Emma to investigate, believing real estate agent Maggie Trenwith killed Victoria to get her hands on Victoria's land to sell to developers. Emma isn't sure she trusts Parker but she knows she's in a unique position to gossip with the locals and uncover information DCI Brent can't, as competent as she is. With Oliver at her side to make friends and sniff out clues, can she solve the mystery before her dreams crumble like overbaked scones?
I really, really liked this book. It ticks most of the boxes for me: dogs, English village and baking! There's actually even a historical mystery to solve but it's too recent for my interests or else this would tick all the boxes. Trevana is charming but once all was revealed, I found the village full of dark, sad secrets and maybe not so charming. I loved traveling to Cornwall though, I place I fell in love with through the The Poldark Saga. Here we see modern Cornwall, still stuck in time very much as it was way back when, just after the Poldark times. There's a high street, a fish and chips shop, a B&B, a vintage home furnishings store, a closed tea room and friendly people, aside from one. There are also two cute dogs and some yummy treats!
The mystery is very good. The suspect pool is limited but I didn't guess whodunit. I did sort of suspect the first part but not the second. It was very heartbreaking. The writing style is lively and engaging. Non-crazy dog ladies might not enjoy the chapters from Oliver's point-of-view. At first even I thought it was weird but I quickly fell in love with this unique way of telling a story. I noticed only a few errors in the ARC I hope are corrected before the paperback hits the market in a month. All were in the second half of the book. The only real problem I had with this novel is that it's too long for a cozy and too repetitive. If it can be trimmed (Emma's parts), it would be a 4.5 star read from me. Not 5 because of the big reveal.
The characters are so well-developed, they fully come alive to me. Emma, a 45-year-old finance sector veteran, is a little older than I normally like my heroines, but she seems younger. Her age isn't relevant to the story, just her experience working as a banker. It made her wise but wore her down. I absolutely ADORE her unique relationship with her Corgi pup Oliver. Oliver is absolutely adorable. He's super loyal to Emma and sees it as his duty to guard her and protect her. He doesn't ever WANT to leave her but sometimes he can't help but chase a fox- you know, just to scare it away from his Emma. Emma can speak to Oliver- literally. She hears his thoughts in English and he understands everything she says back. What I found enjoyable about this concept is that unlike the other novels I've read, the dog speaks dog and not human. Oliver reports his impressions from scents. Names of people and things are not important. Emma doesn't always know what he means because of the way they communicate. The house smells like flowers. bad. wrong. It's up to Emma to interpret what that means. Oliver is just too darn adorable. Emma does know when he wants more sausages or to visit the fish and chips shop. He may speak doggie English but anyone who is owned by a canine know their stomachs speak louder than words LOL! Oliver is a true Watson to Emma's Sherlock.
Victoria Roberts was the village crank but she had a heart of pure gold when it came to those she loved and cared about. Victoria wanted to keep the village pristine and untouched by modern life (I believe they have wifi though and cell towers). She owns half the village to keep it the way she likes it-free of tourists and developers. I understand that feeling and I'm not sure the development deal is a good one but the village already has one closed shop, how long before others follow? How long before Trevana gets left behind and the young people move to more touristy areas or the cities where the jobs are? Victoria was a complicated character and in many ways I feel sorry for her. In other ways, I don't.
Maggie Trenwith (love the name, wink wink), the real estate agent, is fierce. She's determined to get what she wants and won't let anyone or anything stand in her way. She can be ruthless. Her charm seems fake and turned on to land a commission. I don't know if I trust her. I don't think she'd stoop to murder but maybe? Like Maggie, Parker Taite is not always likable. I didn't like him or trust him from the start. However, Oliver seems to like him, so... maybe he's OK? I think his ethics are shady and perhaps his morals as well. I liked him for murderer until... well, it seemed like he wasn't. I think he came to Trevana to cause trouble.
Louise Craddock, Victoria's best friend, is a nervous type. Victoria was certainly the alpha in the relationship, but I assume Louise was content to leave it that way. I think Louise cared about Victoria and what Victoria thought was right. Without Victoria she has to make her own decisions. Did she kill her friend to inherit the land to sell to developers? I don't think she has it in her to murder someone but I think she knows more than she lets on. Victoria's nephew, Jimmy, seems to know what happened. He made a mistake and is paying for it. As a result, he needs money. Could he have murdered his aunt to inherit? I believe he poisoned his aunt to put her out of commission for awhile so he could take over her business deals and sell to the developer. Unlike his aunt, he likes dogs and is kind to Oliver. I don't think Jimmy killed his aunt on purpose.
Oliver makes a new friend too, Percy, the Yorkshire Terrier, who is staying with Parker Taite. Percy is a Houdini. He likes to run away and explore and play. He's like a toddler. I don't like Oliver's attitude towards Percy. I happen to love terriers for their terriertude and their selective hearing. Yorkies aren't real terriers though. They've been bred down to be companions more than working dogs, as Percy is supposed to be. I think Percy's problem is his human is away and his human's brother has no idea what to do with him or any interest in him at all. Percy has a huge role to play at the end of the story though.
Ruth, Louise and Victoria's best friend, no longer lives in the village. She lives in a care home. Why? She's only about my mom's age~ 70ish. That's not old enough to be in a nursing home in a wheelchair. Ruth's childhood was utterly heartbreaking and sadly, rather common. What on earth was wrong with people back then?! I don't get it. Her father was despicable and should have been in jail. No wonder no one missed him when he disappeared. The secondary mystery revolves around him.
Emma's first friend in the village, Genny Knowles, owner of the fish and chips shop, is a huge gossip. I can't stand that normally but Genny is friendly and fun. She appreciates the village as is but knows the tourists bring in business. She can take or leave the development. Genny also knows a good thing when she eats it and encourages Emma's dreams. I think Genny can be a bit mischievous but a good friend to have around. Angelique, the B&B owner, is a motherly figure who cares about her guests. She's kind and supportive of Emma and good to Oliver. Her daughter, Pearl, has some big ideas that could help Trevana stay relevant with the B&B at the center. I'm not sure I like her ideas. They make sense but she moves FAST and I'm not sure everyone else is ready to keep up. Other quirky villagers include PC Patel, a kind young man who grew up in the village. His family is a bit eccentric but proud of him. He seems extremely sympathetic for a cop. DCI Constance Brent, a female detective, is wonderful. She's intelligent and seems to know more than she lets on. She's very sweet with Oliver and according to Oliver, she has dogs of her own. She's firm with Emma but not mean and for a change, doesn't think Emma is the killer. Ben, the taxi driver, is friendly and Emma seems to be developing a crush on him. Only time will tell if he will reciprocate.
I highly recommend this book to dog lovers and English village cozy mystery lovers. Baking mystery fans will enjoy it too. MOSTLY recommended though for crazy dog people, like myself. You do have to suspend some disbelief but the dog stuff is cute and fun. I can't wait to read more about Emma and Oliver's adventures in Cornwall! I need some recipes, too, in the completed paperback edition, thank you!
Written by Darcie Wilde/Sarah Zettel, etc. Thank you to the publisher for suggesting the idea.
I can't wait to read book 2.