Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Nook Review: "A DEATH in the FAMILY" By Marlene Bateman

 A Death in the Family
Marlene Bateman

A good “whodunit” should leave you ruminating about murder suspects until the book’s end is in sight, and if it meanders here and there, adding several possible leads and misleads, along with a host of worthy suspects, then all the better.

And so it is with the second book in author Marlene Bateman’s new Erica Coleman murder mystery series, A Death in The Family. Bateman leads her readers along a variety of tantalizing plot twists, while dishing up a complex cadre of possible suspects and motives which builds until very near the end, and when the murderer is finally revealed, Bateman throws in another twist that keeps the reader flipping pages until the fat lady finally sings.

From the book’s back cover:

 In her debut mystery, Motive for Murder, gutsy private investigator Erica Coleman proved that when it comes to sleuthing, she takes the cake. Now, the fast-talking, food-loving heroine is back, and she's sure her next assignment will be as easy as pie...

Erica and her family happily anticipate Grandma Blanche's eighty-first birthday celebration in the picturesque town of Florence, Oregon. But when the feisty matriarch, a savvy businesswoman, enlists Erica's help in an investigation of her company, things quickly get sticky. Before the investigation can begin, Blanche's unexpected death leaves Erica with more questions than answers—and it soon becomes clear that Grandma's passing was anything but natural: she was murdered. When Aunt Martha, Blanche's reclusive sister, becomes the next victim of someone with a taste for homicide, Erica uses her flair for cooking to butter up local law enforcement and gather clues. As she narrowly escapes becoming the third victim, Erica is more determined than ever to solve the case—before she bites off more than she can chew. (There is one error in the back cover synopsis. Aunt Martha is Blanche’s daughter, not sister.)

On the night of her eighty-first birthday party, Grandma Blanche makes a passing comment to Erica about hiring her to investigate problems in the family business. When she is found dead the next morning, seemingly of natural causes, Erica enlists herself to fulfill Grandma’s last request, and to make sure no foul play is involved. She butts heads with local law enforcement and every family member, most of whom also work in the family business where greed and power grabs add to the list of possible motives.

When the majority of your suspects are members of your own a family, a murder investigation becomes particularly sticky, no matter how justified, as Erica soon discovers. Since most of the Coleman family members are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, religion comes up from time to time. In most places it is worked into conversations seamlessly, although such conversations felt a bit inserted in a few places.

The pace of the book feels a bit slow in the beginning, as the complex relationships of the large family are explained, but pay close attention as clues begin dropping, like chocolate drops, along the way.

A successful series requires a strong, extremely connectable main character readers can bond with and trust to guide them on these adventures. Marlene Bateman has achieved that in private eye Erica Coleman and her husband, David, a cop. Their repartee is sweet and loving, and their conversations are smart and savvy. David provides an able muse and sounding board for Erica, and their marriage and family life round out Erica’s characterization, giving her dogged professionalism that’s grounded in a strong marriage and family life.  

Bateman further intrigues readers by providing glimpses into the couple’s humor and deep friendship. Their conversations are sprinkled with quotations that somehow relate to the current topic they are discussing. This little game they play provides additional characterization and added depth to the individuals and to their relationship, which then makes it possible for David to come off sympathetically when he playfully correct Erica’s quirky OCD behavior.

Yes, Erica is a clean freak who loves animals but who can’t touch them or a car seat, or much of anything for that matter, without the use of latex gloves, (which she keeps handy in her purse and pockets) or sanitizing wipes which she also keeps in abundance.) This OCD behavior provides comic relief while also distracting Erica during case work, but her obsession with order also gives her a keen eye for detail, which helps her observe what others miss. Watching these details unfold made the second half of the book breeze by in a delightful flash.  

As if anything else were needed to make this book a winner, Erica is also an excellent cook, and the recipes for most of the culinary treasures featured in the storylines are included in the back of the book.

A Death In the Family, is a smart, complex murder mystery with charm and wit featuring a bankable heroine. Erica Coleman has staying power. This attractive, savvy cross between Monk and Jessica Fletcher, and her husband David, will appeal to men and women. It would make a great family read, and who knows? Maybe husbands and wives will start quoting the Coleman’s.

Covenant is the publisher of this charmer, and I’m happy to report that the book is available in all formats, including audio, so it can be enjoyed in the car or while snuggling on the sofa. I’ve nominate the book for a Whitney award. Yep. I loved it.

And take a moment to acquaint yourself with the author. Though A Death in the Family, is only Ms. Bateman’s second mystery, she is accomplished author of many LDS novels and uplifting books on gospel themes. Her story is as fascinating as Erica’s.

A Death in the Family can be found in any of these locations:

Seagull Book

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