Published by Midnight Ink on 2014-10-08
Genres: Cozy Mystery, Mystery
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Is it luck or is it . . . Destiny?
Are superstitions real? Rory Chasen doesn't think so--until her beloved fiance walks under a ladder and is killed by a car five minutes later. Needing closure, Rory takes her dog Pluckie to a town called Destiny, where superstitions are a way of life.
Rory's visit to Destiny takes an unexpected turn when Pluckie saves the life of Martha, the owner of the Lucky Dog Boutique. To show her gratitude, Martha offers Rory a job at the pet store. But when Martha becomes the prime suspect in the murder of the local bookshop owner, Rory refuses to believe that she would do it. Rory is convinced the real killer still roams Destiny's streets, and she must uncover the truth before Martha is hauled off to jail.
I received a review copy of this book from .
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Lost Under a Ladder mingles mystery and superstition in the fictional town of Destiny, California. Superstitions fuel Destiny’s tourism economy: the shops, eateries, and B&Bs are named for various superstitions, and the town’s businesses cater to – and encourage – tourists to believe. And of course, to spend their money. Some townspeople are true believers, while others just go along because it brings in money.
Enter Rory Chasen. Still grieving after her fiance walked under a ladder and was immediately hit by a car, Rory comes to Destiny determined to figure out whether superstitions are real. She is, in a sense, both an agnostic and a seeker. At one moment she seems to want to believe, and in the next breath to want to dismiss it.
Almost immediately, Rory stumbles over two bodies in quick succession – one still alive, the victim of a heart attack, but the other murdered. Asked by Martha, the heart attack victim, to stay on and run her pet shop (not as coincidental as it sounds, since running a pet store is in fact Rory’s job), Rory finds herself both managing the store and trying to clear her would-be employer from suspicion of murder. . . and deal with her own attraction to the handsome chief of police.
Both superstition and pets, particularly dogs, play a huge role in the book. I really loved Rory’s dog Pluckie, who goes almost everywhere with her. Pluckie lives up to her name; she’s a plucky dog with a sweet disposition and a sixth sense for people in trouble. It’s Pluckie who alerts Rory to both Martha’s illness and the murder victim’s body, which helped make the coincidence easier to swallow. I also like Justin Halbertson, the police chief. He’s attractive and nice, but flawed enough to be human. Some of the other secondary characters, like the two shop assistants, the button-store proprietor, and the bookstore proprietors, are also interesting but not as well fleshed-out.
Rory herself is harder to figure out. She’s certainly likeable, and she’s fairly sensible in her investigations – always a plus in my eyes.. She adores Pluckie, and the feeling is mutual. She’s still grieving her fiance’s death but showing the first faint signs of being ready to move on (and the police chief’s charms definitely play a part in that!) Even though she is trying to help clear Martha, Rory doesn’t impede the police investigation: she doesn’t go around spying on people, carrying out illegal or dangerous searches, or any of the other unbelievable (and stupid) behaviors that should get cozy mystery heroines arrested but rarely do. TSTL heroines are one of my pet peeves, so Rory’s sensibility is a big plus in my eyes — though she isn’t entirely sensible all the time, which might get boring.
A couple of things bothered me, though. Rory is supposed to be in her thirties, but she comes across as older, or at least old-fashioned, not only in her narrative voice (the mystery is told in first person) but to some extent in her attitudes — and in her relative lack of dependence on technology. She has a cell phone, but not apparently a smartphone, a tablet, or even an e-reader or iPod, though she is competent with the store’s computer and the Internet. She doesn’t seem particularly connected to popular culture, either; there were few enough references to contemporary music, authors, television shows, or movies that their absence was noticeable. It all makes it hard for me to believe in her as a thirtysomething. I even wondered once or twice if perhaps she was an older woman in an early draft of the story.
I also began to find Rory’s constant obsession with superstitions a bit overdone. The story’s overall premise is intriguing, and aspects of the town and the townspeople ring very true, both regarding their personal beliefs or doubts and their cheerful marketing of superstitions to the tourists who flock to the town. But Rory’s mental musings over “is it real or not, do I believe it or not”, juxtaposed with her clearly growing acceptance (knocking wood, etc.), begin to dominate both her character and the story and sometimes take the focus off the mystery.
The mystery plot itself has several things going for it. There are a number of possible suspects, none of them with motives as strong as Martha’s. As an outsider, Rory is willing to consider almost anyone, even if she does reject some possibilities based on her personal feelings about them. There’s not a great deal of danger or tension in the early and middle part of the book, but there are plenty of interactions to interest readers, and the tension rises sharply in the last third. Johnston does a pretty good job of keeping the suspect pool wide open until the last minute. Unfortunately, there are few if any clues to the real murderer, making it almost impossible for Rory, the police, or the reader to figure it out based on anything but instinct. I admit, I did spot the killer pretty early on, but it was mostly educated guessing based on forty years of reading mysteries.
All in all, Lost Under a Ladder is an engaging light mystery, slightly flawed but entertaining, especially if you love dogs or are fascinated by superstitions.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2014