*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.*
Blurb: Welcome to Whispering Pines, Wisconsin. A place for those who don’t belong.
Sixteen years after a family feud drove her from the cozy Northwoods village of Whispering Pines, Wisconsin, former detective Jayne O’Shea returns to prepare her grandparents’ lake house for sale. Once there, not only does she find that the house has been trashed, her dog discovers a dead body in the backyard.
Jayne intends to stay out of it, but when it becomes obvious the sheriff isn’t interested in investigating the death, Jayne can’t stop herself. Her list of suspects grows faster than the plants in the commons’ pentacle garden. Could it be the local Wiccan green witch with her stash of deadly plants? The shopkeeper who slips into trances and foretells death? The visitor determined to practice black magic?
What Jayne knows for sure is that the closer she gets to solving this crime, the more the sheriff wants her to back off. And when a local fortune teller provides a crucial clue, Jayne knows it’s up to her to solve this murder.
Family Secrets is a pleasant, cosy mystery with paranormal elements. The small-town setting, suspicious death of an outsider, cast of locals-with-a-motive or odd behaviour: all of these will be familiar to fans of the genre made famous by Agatha Christie and the spinster sleuth of St Mary Mead.
I found that the potential for paranormal, which is flirted with here but not confirmed, added a level of extra interest to the story, with the hint that something is more darkly, deeply wrong in Whispering Pines; making me want to race straight on to the next installment to find out more.
The relationships are also nicely developed throughout the story. Jayne, our main character, is an ‘outsider’ investigating, but her family connections also give her insider access to the town and its citizens, and I felt that the bonds she begins to build with various side-characters were introduced gracefully and allowed to develop naturally with the course of the story. I particularly enjoyed her quirk of scoping each new person and tagging them with a cop-style descriptor before initiating conversation: as a reader it was a handy short-cut to giving me a physical image of each new character, but felt plausible to the character rather than forced.
Throughout the novel this interspersion of efficient city-cop with talismans, pentagrams and sabbats made a sometimes amusing, but always interesting and entertaining contrast. Moments like Jayne pondering how the sheriff and deputy had time to perform a thorough ‘grid search’ of the crime scene, when it was patently clear to the reader that they hadn’t bothered to do anything of the sort, provided fun little 4th wall nods between author and reader that made you feel like you were ‘in’ on a private joke.
My one criticism here was that I felt Jayne missed a glaringly obvious fact during her investigation, so I spent a portion of the middle chunk of plot glaring at the book waiting for her to catch up! I don’t want to spoiler the plot, so will just say that when three suspects have been introduced specifically as family members, then a further family relationship is revealed with ONE of those suspects, the next logical step for me would have been to acknowledge the connection to the other two characters, which Jayne rather obtusely (and annoyingly) failed to do. It would have caused plot problems for the author as it would have caused too soon a reveal of some aspects of the case, but I felt that the omission left a bit of a plot hole for the avid mystery reader.
On the whole though I really enjoyed this as a nice easy read, with plenty going on, and look forward to the next Whispering Pines novel with pleasure!
For as much as I didn’t want to have to pack up Gran’s house, I had been quietly anxious to return to this village of supposed misfits. Now that I was here, I sort of felt like Whispering Pines and its population of odd, quirky residents might be exactly what I needed. I’d never in my life felt as odd as I had lately.
– Shawn McGuire, Family Secrets
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