Dec. 21, 2020
Open for Murder
reviewed by Leslie Chatman
Set against the beautiful backdrop of Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, Open for Murder is the first book in the new Happy Camper Mystery series.
The story follows Zo Jones, local columnist and owner of The Happy Camper gift shop, as she reunites with her childhood best friend, Beth Everett. Beth has recently inherited Spirit Canyon Lodge. She and her family have moved back to Spirit Canyon to prepare for and host the grand reopening of the lodge over the Memorial Day weekend.
Local resort owner, Enid Barrett, crashes the festivities on opening day, getting into confrontations with many of the other guests and attempting to coax Beth into selling the lodge to her.
When Enid is found dead in her room at the lodge, local authorities are convinced that Beth is the culprit. Against all odds, Zo wants to believe that Beth is innocent and, despite brief moments of doubt, she begins her own shadow investigation to clear her friend of this horrible crime. With the help of an unlikely ally in the handsome forest ranger Max Harrington, Zo sets out to keep her friend out of prison and to keep Spirit Canyon Lodge open for business.
With this being the first book in the series, Mary Angela gives ample background information on Zo, helping the reader get to know her story and learn about her life before opening her gift shop. Creating a loyal, complex, and fiercely independent heroine, who also has very relatable flaws, endears the main character to the reader.
The supporting characters closest to Zo – Beth, the childhood friend and Max, the forest ranger and budding love interest – obviously do not get the same attention to strong character development, but there is hope that as the series goes on, readers will learn much more about these individuals through Zo’s interactions with them.
While the character development begins to connect readers to the individuals in the book, the overall authenticity of the relationships further that bond. The relationship I really craved more from was the friendship between Zo and Beth. I did not get the warm and fuzzy best friend feeling from them. And for Zo to consider the possibility that since she has not seen Beth for a number of years that she could be the killer made me hope that Angela gives this friendship some new perspective and a more authentic bond in further books.
I really enjoyed the developing relationship between Zo and Max. Zo is apprehensive, while Max is somewhat forward in his flirtation with her. He is shaping up to be a wonderful budding love interest for Zo. It seems that Angela really put in time developing this storyline and I appreciate how restrained, yet playful it is. The interactions between Zo and Max seemed very genuine and really brought me joy. I can’t wait to see where this connection goes.
Open for Murder is a fun read with a fresh setting, interesting plot twists, great characters, humor, and budding romance.
There is always something so exciting about starting a brand-new series from an author. As a first in the series, I did find that this book started out a little bit slow, but once it picks up pace, it becomes a real page turner. There are plenty of red herrings in the mix, it seems like everyone has a reason to want Enid dead, but the twist at the end is a refreshing shock.
This series is off to a great start and I look forward to spending more time with these characters in further installments.