Murder at Barclay Meadow (Wendy Sand Eckel)

August 3, 2015 Book Reviews 17 ★★★★½

Murder at Barclay Meadow (Wendy Sand Eckel)Murder at Barclay Meadow by Wendy Sand Eckel
Series: Rosalie Hart #1
Published by Minotaur Books on July 28th 2015
Genres: Cozy Mystery, Mystery
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Also in this series: Death at the Day Lily Café
Also by this author: Death at the Day Lily Café

A delightful cozy debut featuring Rosalie Hart -- an endearing, bread-baking heroine -- and a supporting cast of highly original small-town characters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Rosalie Hart's world has been upended. After her husband confesses to an affair, she exiles herself to her late aunt's farmhouse on Maryland's Eastern Shore. With its fields untended and the house itself in disrepair, Barclay Meadow couldn't be more different than the tidy D.C. suburb she used to call home. Just when Rosalie feels convinced things couldn't get any worse, she finds a body floating in her marsh grasses. When the sheriff declares the death an accident, she becomes suspicious. The dead girl, Megan, reminds her of her own daughter, and she feels a responsibility to find out the truth.

Rosalie confides her doubts to her friends in her creative writing class, and they ask to join her investigation, beginning the search in earnest. Meanwhile, Rosalie works on restoring Barclay Meadow to its former glory--with help from the rugged Tyler Wells, a farmer who once leased the land. When Rosalie discovers her aunt's favorite bread recipe on a yellowed index card, she begins baking, and with her deep love for nourishing others rekindled, she starts to feel alive again. But as she zeroes in on the truth about what happened to Megan, she begins getting ominous threats. Determined to get justice for Megan and protect the new home she's begun to build for herself, Rosalie races to catch the killer in this deftly plotted and heartwarming debut.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review

I really liked Murder at Barclay Meadow. It’s no breezy cozy; these are real people with real feelings – especially the main character, Rosalie Hart. Her story and her emotional journey are interwoven with the mystery and receive as much attention and page time. The growth and change in her character is handled deftly, as she expands slowly from stunned and grieving discarded wife to a woman discovering who she is and what she wants in her life.

Despite the fact that our marital situations couldn’t be more different – I’m happily married and Rosalie is still reeling from her husband’s infidelity and the breakup of her marriage – I found it easy to relate to her from the start. She’s close to my age or a little younger, a stay-at-home mother whose child, like mine, recently started college. I could understand and sympathize with how bereft, adrift, and upended she must feel.

That recognition also made it easy for me to understand her rationale for investigating the circumstances of Megan’s death. I admire her determination to find out what happened to Megan, who was the same age as Rosalie’s daughter, but I think it goes much deeper than than that. Rosalie is alive, but like Megan, the life she knew is over, cut short with unexpected suddenness. In a way, I think Rosalie identifies with Megan; her need to know how and why Megan died is not that different from her need to understand how and why her marriage failed.

Eckel handles the actual investigation very well. Although she doesn’t initially intend to, Rosalie ends up confiding in the members of her memoir-writing course. Each one brings different skills and experiences to the investigation, and they form a friendship both on- and off-line. Their investigation covers not days or weeks but months, which is far more realistic than in most mysteries. They have several suspects whose motives and opportunity only seemed to get stronger the more digging the group does. This isn’t an academic puzzle; you never forget that it all began with a young woman’s death (and to give them credit, neither do the What-Ifs.)

As you might expect, the police – in this case specifically the police chief – are not pleased with an amateur involving herself in an investigation, or rather in a closed case. But rather than make him a caricature, a cardboard opponent, the author gives the chief reasons for his hostility, which made him feel both more real and more frightening.

In fact, everything felt very real, from the small-town Eastern Shore setting to the details – sailboats, college soccer, the use of Facebook, small-town gossip and politics, even Rosalie’s attempt to make it a good Christmas for her daughter despite the separation and the unfamiliar surroundings. Rosalie’s fierce love for and protectiveness of her only daughter were another source of connection for me, as well as a catalyst for Rosalie’s growing independence.

I really appreciated that the author did not throw in a romance as the solution to Rosalie’s unhappiness. There are certainly plenty of single men in the book: the aforementioned prickly police chief; Rosalee’s taciturn neighbor Tyler, who rents her fields; a hot professor at the neighboring college; recently-divorced Tony, one of her classmates and fellow investigators; and several others. There are hints of attraction here and there, and if a relationship develops in future books, I think I can guess with whom. But for now, the relationships Rosalie is developing are much-needed friendships.

Murder at Barclay Meadow is well-written, with evocative descriptions and believable dialogue; the author rarely if ever falls into the trap of “telling” rather than “showing.” Rosalie and her fellow investigators are people I would be pleased to spend more time with. Ms. Eckel has turned out an excellent debut. She’s definitely an author to watch, and I look forward to the next Rosalie Hart mystery.

 

CHALLENGES: COYER #58 – A book by an author with three names

four-half-stars

About Wendy Sand Eckel

Degrees in criminology and social work, followed by years of clinical practice, helped WENDY SAND ECKEL explore her fascination with how relationships impact motivation, desire, and inhibition. Combined with her passion for words and meaning, writing mystery is a dream realized. She lives in Maryland where she enjoys family and friends, two cats, and living near the Chesapeake Bay.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Scavenger Hunt - Summer 2015
  • Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2015

17 Responses to “Murder at Barclay Meadow (Wendy Sand Eckel)”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      It really is a wonderful book, but it’s more about restoring Rosalie than the house. I mean, yes, the house needs some work, but so does she… and she’s doing it. It’s as though finding the victim’s body is a catalyst that starts her on a new path, not only finding out the truth of Megan’s death for the girl’s sake, but finding out the truth of her self and what she wants in life.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Oh, I totally agree! I love a good HEA, but in this case, Rosalie needs to learn to be herself, and to be true to herself, before she shares her life with anyone else. And I loved watching that process in this book.

  1. Bea @Bea's Book Nook

    This sounds wonderful, especially how realistic it is. And like you, I’m glad that Eckel holds off on giving Rosalie a romance. Too many authors use romance as a crutch or filler in mysteries. It’s already on my wish list, here’s hoping my library has it.
    Bea @Bea’s Book Nook recently posted…Bea Reviews Mayhem by Angela AddamsMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      It’s definitely worth reading. I don’t necessarily mind romance in mysteries, if it’s well done and enhances the character development, but it would have been all wrong for this character at this point in her life. Maybe later – actually I suspect so – but not right now, while she’s still trying to rebuild her life and figure out who she is when she’s not Ed’s wife.

  2. Rita @ View From My Home

    Absolutely sounds wonderful to me, a cozy mystery without being stuffed with insta-love relationships and over-the-top silly neighbors, and a really nice setting too! That cover is wonderful, by the way. I can’t wait to read it, and wouldn’t have known about it without your review. Thanks so much!
    Rita @ View From My Home recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday- 8/4/15My Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I was lucky; a publicist for the publisher brought it to my attention, suggesting I might like it based on some other books of theirs I have reviewed. And she was right! Not one character is over the top; all of them are believable, even the lecherous professor (unfortunately.) I hope you enjoy it!

      • Rita @ View From My Home

        I’m actually reading it now– couldn’t resist based on your good review. I know it’s hard to get 4 stars from you, let alone 4 1/2 😉 Plus I like that it isn’t formulaic.

        Right now I read about 30% and am enjoying it. Will be slowing down on my reading for a couple of days though because my son comes home tonight and I’ll be caught up in a whirlwind of long chats and chores 🙂
        Rita @ View From My Home recently posted…After The Storm {A Bullet Review}My Profile

        • Lark_Bookwyrm

          I’m glad you’re enjoying it! Have a lovely time with your son. Long chats are wonderful – it’s one of my favorite parts of having Robin home in the summer. 🙂

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      It’s an excellent debut, and doesn’t read like a first novel. You’ll enjoy it, I’m pretty sure! I thought of you when I was reading it, because of the location.