On Spine of Death
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Tess Harrow is a successful mystery writer who moved to Winthrop in northern Washington with her fourteen-year-old daughter Gertrude (Gertie) following her difficult divorce. Inheriting her grandfather’s run-down cabin in the woods and his hardware store in town, she was planning to stay just for the summer.
However, after solving a murder literally on their door step and making friends in the process, Tess and Gertie now have plans to stay and make a fresh start in their lives. After fixing up the cabin so it now has electricity, wifi and running water, Tess is now embarking on renovating her grandfather’s old shop, planning to re-open it as a bookstore.
Undertaking hands-on research for her new book, Tess had tied herself to a chair in the shop’s basement and was struggling to free herself when her handyman Herb, knocking down a wall above her, caused the ceiling to collapse, showering her with human bones. Suddenly the shop has become a crime scene and, when the bones turn out to be from a thirty-year-old cold case, her grandfather a suspect in a murder.
This cozy mystery zips along at a fast pace, filled with twists and turns and red herrings aplenty, with never a dull moment. Tess is an engaging character – impulsive, too nosy for her own good and always thinking about how she can use the investigation for her new book. Her fictional detective Gabriel Gonzales shares an uncanny resemblance to Winthrop’s sheriff Victor Boyd and she is often annoyed that Boyd doesn’t think and work the same way as Gabriel. For his own part, Boyd is often annoyed with Tess sticking her nose in everywhere and trying to meddle in his case but he respects her intuition and listens to her theories. Their growing attraction and conversations provide much of the humour in the novel.
Together with her friends Nicki, a librarian with a mobile lending library (and her own reasons for being in Winthrop), her new handyman Jared (who has suspiciously uncalloused hands for a workman), fellow author Peter (who has an unusual interest in bones) and her daughter Gertie (who has an uncanny attraction to dead bodies), Tess sets out to clear her grandfather’s name and find the murderer. With an entertaining mixture of humour and mystery, nonstop action and a cast of quirky characters, this will appeal to fans of fun, bookish cosy mysteries.
With thanks to Poisoned Pen Press via Netgalley for a copy to read.