Title: Malice at the Manor (Penny Summers Mystery Book 2) by J. Marshall Gordon
Genre: Mystery, Women’s Fiction, Woman Sleuth, Private Investigations
Publisher: Taylor & Seale Publishing
Publication Date: April 27, 2018
Source: Happy Book Reviews and author
Title and Cover: Malice at the Manor – Beautiful cover conveys subject background
Book Blurb: Penny Summers bones up on Renaissance garden design until she finds a dead docent and finds herself up to her tramp stamp unraveling a Civil War battle flag scam.
In North Carolina where “The Recent Unpleasantness” between the North and the South is still romanticized, the problem of a dead docent in a famous garden leads ex-Navy public affairs officer Penny Summers to a Civil War battle flag scam, a deadly reenactment, and a search for a man in black. With the help of Kalea, an eleven-year-old C.S.I.-wannabe, and Aaron, her handsome Navy friend working undercover, Penny discovers more than she bargained for. She thinks if she had studied psychology, it might have turned out differently. Probably not.
(This was a publicist request that I thought both the C.E. and I might enjoy and review together–you’ll note the CE often holds a different opinion although many times generously so.)
I must confess that this is the first quasi-cozy whose protagonist is a Master Gardener/landscape designer. Ex-Navy Penny Summers enrolls in Madison Lerrimore’s residential design course in Maryland which leads to a visit with the instructor to North Carolina.
The author does a masterful job of interlacing fact with fiction, the names in our recent history, and fascinating locations in this country’s civil war including the little-known site of a short skirmish in Asheville, NC. I must say, it incites interest in visiting civil war sites and some of these gorgeous old southern mansions and their gardens. This one, whether or not fictional, sounded fascinating enough to warrant a closer inspection (especially if the bridges where the public would be allowed are unsafe).
This is actually the second in the series. Among the recurring major characters are her Aunt Zelma and Navy sweetie, Aaron Hunt. In this narrative, Penny gets to know her instructor on a personal level, including Madison’s daughter, Kalea, a precocious eleven-year-old and Madison’s partner. The author includes a touch of paranormal with his first-person Penny who often hears her “Grandpa Jack” making comments in her ear, and her great-aunt Zelma is said to have “second sight.” Additionally, backstory is added to Penny’s own childhood that appears to have some impact on current events.
It doesn’t take long before Penny is stumbling across a docent face down in a creek bed who turns out to be a relative of Madison which unintentionally opens a can of worms. The multi-layered plot forks off with absorbing peek into history, Madison’s twisted tale, and Aunt Zelma’s hosting prowess with food and the ever-present chardonnay. And there is always “money” as motive in civil war memorabilia. Penny concocts an idea to wheedle out the antagonist using her sweetie, soon to be lover, and manages to pull off a coup at the conclusion with the help of local law enforcement and Henderson County detective, Coleen Jackson.
The description of the gardens and associated local plant species was interesting, the civil war history interesting, and the sights and flavors of the south interesting. However, there were times when Kalea appeared to be smarter than the adults who were supervising her, and the growing romance between Penny and Aaron was just annoying unnecessary. The characters were not wholly engaging although the narrative moved at a nice pace, and the dialogue (except for exaggerated southern drawl) believable.
On the whole, a relatively quiet conclusion, albeit without a complete resolution to all questions. The antagonist seems apparent and as they note, “Maybe the how will suggest the why. And then the who will become obvious.” 4/5 stars [V Williams]
A North Carolina mystery tale of greed, intrigue, and murder. Penny Summers is entwined in a dangerous setting of avarice, mistrust, and double dealing. Her character, along with pseudo-niece Kalea, embark on a mission to discover the reasons for murder and attempted murder on Kalea’s mother Madison and Madison’s step-father.
This mystery novel makes the western North Carolina region very enticing. The characters are well developed and engaging. Asheville is a quiet town which was the scene of one of the last engagements in the US Civil War. Southern hospitality is everywhere only eclipsed by memories of the “War of Northern Aggression”. Great-Aunt Zelma is a shining example of the warmth of the old South. Food and accommodations freely shared by this dear lady along with her sixth sense add flavor to the mystery.
War memorabilia is a central theme in this saga and the reason for much of the suspense. Add to this the problem of forgeries rampant in the collection of these artifacts and you have the motive for the mayhem that follows.
I found some of the inter-personal drama between the characters at times confusing. In particular the development of Kalea’s two “moms” left me wondering about the relationship. Cheyenne gave me the impression of a self-absorbed and selfish gold digger. This was contrasted with Penny’s lifestyle which made me wonder why the schism in the developed characters.
The visuals were well developed in the novel as well as the characters. I also recognized the greed that envelops collectors of this type of historical hardware. I was amazed at the damage that a ricocheting ball could do to Madison during a civil war re-enactment. Other characters entwined in the tale added authenticity to the overall conclusion.
The writer does a very entertaining job of spooling a story. This is a good story for stormy winter nights. 4/5 stars [the C.E.]
We received a download request from the author’s publisher publicist and appreciated the opportunity to read and review. Recommended for landscape design enthusiasts, civil war enthusiasts, women’s fiction fans, as well as cozy, women sleuths, and mystery fans.
Rosepoint Publishing: Four of Five Stars
The Author: (Truncated author bio taken from book) J Marshall Gordon is the pen name of John M Gordon, an award-winning documentary and educational film and video producer…He was a Navy Air Intelligence and Public Affairs officer and did a stint as landscape designer. He lives in Asheville, NC, with his wife, two dogs, and a trio of spoiled cats, one of which can usually be found dozing behind his iMac.
©2018 V Williams