Review, Murder of a Small-Town Honey, by Denise Swanson
Murder of a Small-Town Honey on Amazon
"Mrs Gumtree" turned out to be Honey Adair, an old high school girlfriend of Skye's brother, Vince.
Honey was murdered with shears from Vince's beauty salon.
The cops have no other suspects, and they aren't looking for any. It's up to Skye and her mom, May, to clear Vince's good name and get him out of jail.
Chapter 1, It's Like we Never Said Goodbye
Murder of a Small Town Honey is the first novel in the Scumble River Mystery series.
Skye knew it would be humiliating to return to Scumble River, but she never thought it would be murder.
"It was embarrassing enough to have been fired from her first full-time position as a school psychologist, but then she'd had to beg for a job in a place she had described as a small town, full of small-minded people, with even smaller intellects. Skye only wished she hadn't said it to the entire population of Scumble River via her high school valedictorian address. Granted, the speech took place twelve years ago, but she had a feeling people would remember."
Yes, They Did Remember --- Unfortunately!
At the chokeberry jelly table of Chokeberry Days Festival, Aunt Minnie tells Skye, "Yesterday at the catfish dinner, someone replaced all the salt in the kitchen with sugar. Seventy pounds of catfish, potato salad, and baked beans were ruined. The Feedbag was sponsoring the supper, so they're out a pretty penny."
The Feedbag is the only non-fast food restaurant in town.
Skye asks, "Why would someone do that?"
"Why, honey, you're the one with the degree in psychology. I'm just one of those people with small intellects you told us about in your graduation speech."
Skye's Nasty Cousin Ginger
Skye ran into one of her cousins at the grocery store.
Ginger was not easily dismissed: "You know, we were all real sad for you when your fiance jilted you."
Skye . . . did not want to talk about him to anyone, let alone a cousin she didn't really like. "Thanks, but I'm fine. I've put that behind me."
"Good. Then it's true. You are dating Mike Young?"
"No. I mean, it was just one double date with Vince and Abby."
"Do I hear wedding bells?"
"If you do, it's time to recharge the old Miracle Ear," answered Skye, making her escape.
Ginger's Twin --- Even Nastier (If That's Possible?)
"Well, if it isn't my long-lost cousin Skye. Ginger said she saw you last night at the grocery store. . . We were sure surprised to hear you were coming home. This is such a small town, and we all have such small minds. . ."
Skye said, " . . . Maybe next year I'll be in Alaska. You never can tell."
"After all the times you said you'd never come back, it must be hard to face people. . . Especially after having gained so much weight."
Skye said, "It's been great talking to you. . . "
"Sure. We've really missed you at the family gatherings. It's a shame we never go to meet that fiance of yours before he broke up with you."
"Chokeberry Days was to Scumble River what Mardi Gras was to New Orleans . . . Even the farmers made a profit selling 'antiques' from their barns and attics, and the last of the vegetables from their gardens."— From Chapter One.
All that Glitters is Not Purple, Gold, and Green
" . . . brought in so much money that retailers could afford to run their businesses at half profits for the rest of the year. They tripled their rates and sold souvenirs, overpriced crafts, and soda at two dollars a can. The liquor store stayed open twenty-four hours, and the town's restaurant actually required reservations."— Chapter One
Mardi Gras of Scumble River
. . . brought in so much money that retailers could afford to run their businesses at half profits for the rest of the year. They tripled their rates and sold souvenirs, overpriced crafts, and soda at two dollars a can. The liquor store stayed open twenty-four hours, and the town's restaurant actually required reservations.
Grandma Leofanti - A Sweet Old Lady
Skye had not seen her grandma Antonia Leofanti in eight months when they embraced fiercely by the Chokeberry Jelly table. They only had a few seconds together.
As she left with Minnie, Antonia said to Skye, "Now that you're back in town, you make sure you come visit me. It's time I told someone the family history, and I think you're the best one to hear it."
Antonia is the sweet old lady who gets murdered, and it has something to do with that family history. Skye only has one grandma after that second book in the series.
Apparently there have been some other serious pranks at the Chokeberry Days Festival. Aunt Minnie tells Skye that the town is divided on the question of whether to continue the festival at all.
Some folks --- the ones who profit from it --- want it to continue. Others, however, just think it's a nuisance. Those are mostly people who live right near the fairgrounds. The crowds and noise are irksome, as is the trash in their yards.
Another "Old Lady" --- Maybe Not So Sweet?
While Skye waited in line to use the Port-A-Pot during her break, she, "heard a high saccharine voice attempting to tell a children's story while a small child screamed in the background."
A "tiny old lady" on the festival's center stage, was telling a story while, "trying to ignore two little boys who were fighting over a stuffed animal."
The lady crouched by the two boys who were fighting.
She still had her mic on.
"Sweetie pies, could you do Mrs. Gumtree a big, big favor? If you stop fighting over that itty-bitty teddy bear, Mrs. Gumtree will get each of you one of her dolls when she finishes the story."
The two boys were insulted at the suggestion that a boy would play with a doll. (Why not just reward them with teddy bears?)
Skye thinks to herself that Mrs. Gumtree needs a few tips on behavior management.
Then, there was pandemonium at the cow-chip bingo when a cow somehow got a "tummy problem", and produced many more "chips" than usual.
(Also, not really in "chip" form --- but soupier, if you get my meaning?)
After that ~~ there was more turmoil at the go-karts when somebody put water in all the tanks.
Lloyd Stark, the junior high principal, started chanting "Cancel Chokeberry Days," and called loudly for the mayor to do something. A businessman "started preaching about the sins of Chokebery Days. . . . property damage . . . people injured . . . trash scattered everywhere." This businessman said that the mayor only puts up with Chokeberry Fest because he gets to pose with a celebrity.
Then, a boy ran in screaming, "The Mayor's dead! The mayor's dead!"
Skye grabbed her Aunt Minnie and Grandma Leofanti and ran out of the jelly tent, before there was a riot.
Chapter Two: Don't Rain on My Parade
Fortunately, the mayor just got a nasty electrical shock, but recovered fully the next day.
However, Mrs. Gumtree was not quite so lucky.
Three Hundred Pounds, Six foot Three, Seventy Years Old ~ Seen it All --- Twice
Skye's "Uncle" Charlie Patukas was grand marshal of the Chokeberry Days Parade. Skye owed her new job to Charlie. Skye's last school --- in New Orleans --- had fired her for insubordination, but Charlie had somehow been able to get her a job in Scumble River Schools anyway, without much explaining on her part.
So, when "Uncle" Charlie asked her to put on a ridiculous pink Chokeberry Parade t-shirt, and go to Mrs. Gumtree's trailer to give instructions about the parade, Skye had no choice but to do as he asked.
Sky tried to knock, but the door to Mrs. Gumtree's trailer was open, so Skye walked in. After a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to the dark inside, Skye looked around.
That was when Skye realized Mrs. Gumtree wouldn't be getting any instructions -- except maybe from St. Peter.
Mrs. Gumtree was already dead.
Mrs. Gumtree Was Not Her Real Name
Her real name was Honey Adair. She was in her 30's, not her 60's. She was the biological niece of Charlie Patukas.
Charlie's youngest sister was Honey's mom. Both Honey's parents died while Honey was in high school. Honey had lived with Charlie during senior year of high school, before she ran away with his car and $200 in cash.
Charlie was not sorry she left, because she'd caused a lot of turmoil for him. He did not bear her any ill will, though.
Sky discovered that Honey had been involved in breaking up other couples in high school. That was part of the turmoil for Charlie.
Telling Stories Was Not Her Real Game
When Honey lived in Scumble River, she had dated Skye's brother, Vince, for a while -- as well as almost every other male student at Scumble River High.
Honey had been stabbed with shears from Vince's styling salon.
The cops think that's enough to bring him in for questioning. At first, they let him go. After that, though, they bring him in a second time, because they found an incriminating old letter Vince had written to Honey back in high school.
It's up to Skye and her mom --- as well as a new friend, Simon Reid, town coroner --- to find out who really murdered Honey.
But, Blackmail Was
Sky finds out that Vince was being blackmailed by Honey for an alleged "son" who was allegedly now a teenager. Honey had been claiming that Vince had to keep paying "child support" in order to avoid court.
After a while, Vince started to miss the "son." Vince had always thought the son was growing up in Chicago, where Honey's television show was broadcast.
After Honey's death, Vince found out Honey was unable to have kids at all. There never was a son or daughter.
Skye's job as school psychologist means that she spends time at each of the three schools in the Scumble River School District: Elementary, Middle and High.
The parts of the book where Skye works with the kids in her office (actually a janitorial closet) are most touching and revealing. She administers an "IQ" test to one boy who really likes her (especially after that Tootsie Roll Pop!), and who is a little disappointed that he won't be taking more tests.
The book delineates how Skye finds and organize the files on the special ed kids. She also arranges for the kids to get the help they are entitled to, while ensuring the files are confidential and locked up. None of this is easy for her, since the school district mostly seems either indifferent or downright hostile towards her and her position.
The district does not realize how helpful she is.
Skye helps the school district with a problem kid who throws parties for other kids his age, while his parents are commuting to and from Chicago. She also uses her expertise to assist the cops when they investigate a boy whose girlfriend's behavior is threatening.
Great Mystery, Plot and Characters!!
A very enjoyable read, all told. I really loved the characters in this book --- except for Skye's nasty cousins Ginger and Gillian.
Yet, the mystery plot itself was also good.
If you like Sherlock Holmes, it might remind you --- loosely --- of Charles Augustus Milverton. The Jeremy Brett version was called, "The Master Blackmailer."
Back Home, Safe and Sound
In the last chapter, the case is solved, and murderer is taken care of.
Skye is back in the dining room with mom and dad, "Uncle" Charlie and some other friends, eating great homemade food and sitting together.
Who wouldn't be happy with a resolution like that?
Sometimes I wonder if being at home with loved ones like this at the end of the cozy mystery is a metaphor for our Heavenly home?
Ugly Hero: The Blue Chevy Impala Skye Hates so Much
An Ugly Hero Sacrifices its Life.
There is not much sorrow for the loss of Skye's old blue Chevy, though --- even though it was the very thing that saved her from the murderer.
Despite my sorrow for that old car, I thought the book was fun, suspenseful, and informative regarding what a school psychologist's job is like.
Apparently that ugly life was not completely lost, though.
In Murder of a Snake in the Grass, Skye is driving that blue Chevy again.
She also refers to the two Dooziers who had "fished her out of the river."
A Fun Little Read
I've met many school psychologists during my kids' school years, but never really had a clear idea of what they do. They always seemed nice and intelligent, though, and treated us with respect. Some school officials weren't so nice to single moms back then. I hope that is no longer the case.
If you like your mysteries hard-boiled or realistic, this might not be one of your favorites. If you like a little innocent fun without much violence and lots of home-town characters, --- I highly recommend Murder of a Small Town Honey.
~*~ A Fun Little Quiz ~*~ (Based On the Information in This Review. You Don't Have to Read the Book to Ace the Quiz.)
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Apology for Mistake in the Quiz (Below) :-(
I just noticed that the incorrect answer is listed as correct in question number 7. I'm so sorry if you took the text and clicked the right answer, but it came up as "incorrect."
It should be okay now, so I hope you will take the text again.