Grounds to Kill
Author: Wendy Roberts
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: January 7, 2013
Anyone who reads my blog probably knows that I'm a huge fan of cozy mysteries (it's in the title of my blog!) so bear that in mind when you read my review. This book is definitely for genre fans. It has a lot of elements that I really like and found to be clever, but it also has elements that may cause readers who don't typically read cozies to balk. Let me explain.
One thing most cozies have in common is the amateur sleuth who must, for whatever reason, solve the murder herself (or himself, but often herself) instead of just letting the police handle it. The reason for this compulsion is a problem every amateur-sleuth-mystery writer must solve. Sometimes she's just nosy. Sometimes she has a criminal record and doesn't trust the police. Sometimes she knows more than she's willing to share with the authorities because it implicates someone she cares about. Sometimes she herself is the chief suspect and must work to clear her name. Sometimes the police are simply unavailable because of a remote location, snow storm, etc. (Agatha Christie was a huge fan of that last one). And sometimes...well sometimes there's a supernatural element.
The supernatural-element cozy mystery is not my favourite sub-genre. I'm not talking about all-out magic, like Harry Potter running around a school of wizardry. No, I mean the talking dog, the ghost of a dead aunt, the grim reaper who sends text messages. It's the one unexplained element in an otherwise perfectly normal universe, and it only affects our amateur sleuth heroine (or hero, but usually heroine). It almost always helps her solve crimes but she almost never wants to tell the authorities about it because, well, she might get herself committed.
For Jen Hamby it's an itchy hand that uses "automatic writing" to send her messages from an unknown spirit guide.
Still with me? Good, because despite the kooky "supernatural element" Wendy Roberts' Grounds to Kill isn't bad. Our amateur sleuth heroine Jen is a barista (hence the mandatory pun-based book title) whose neighbour/half-sister/arch-nemesis is found murdered and Jen is the chief suspect. But she has information that she doesn't want to share with the police because a) it might implicate her homeless and mentally ill father, and b) it might cause her to admit she has a spirit guide who sends her messages through her kooky left hand.
If all of those elements send you screaming in the other direction, this book isn't for you. But for fans of the genre it's a well-written and well-paced cozy mystery filled with characters I found interesting and (mostly) likable. I liked it enough to get past the psychics and the spirit guides, which is saying a lot.