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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gold, Frankincense, and Murder by Barbara Early

Gold, Frankincense, and Murder by Barbara Early
Publisher: White Rose Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (89 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

High school geometry teacher, Donna Russell likes her life well-ordered and logical, even if it is a tad solitary at times. But when a charming co-worker at the local food bank disappears just before Christmas, Donna is left with more questions than solutions.

After the missing man's neighbor, muscle-bound EMT Sam Holton, volunteers as Donna's crime-fighting sidekick, sparks fly between them. Donna wonders if Sam can be trusted, or if he's trying to throw an unknown into her calculations—and her life.

And when police recover a body from the icy Niagara River, Donna is faced with the most frustrating equation of all: can murder plus mayhem ever equal romance?

Something smells fishy at the food pantry, and it isn’t the old cans of tuna.

I knew I was in for an entertaining story as soon as I met Donna on the first page. As Donna restocks the shelves at the food pantry, she’s mildly annoyed at having to fill in for Neal, who missed his shift for the second Saturday in a row. I could clearly picture her banging cans of food around as she groused about men and her nonexistent social life. Even though Donna is wishing for a romantic relationship, I like that she didn’t wallow in self pity. She finds self-worth in her job, her volunteer efforts, and her faith. Things take a more serious turn when Donna realizes something might be wrong with Neal. Soon Donna finds herself investigating the murder of a friend, but she’s just an amateur sleuth. Will she discover the culprit before she becomes the next victim?

Donna is such a fun character. She’s smart, caring, and has a wonderful, wry sense of humor. While her mind is often filled with amusing thoughts concerning those around her, she laughs at herself just as much. She’s a little on the cynical side, but not truly bitter. I think she’d be a great friend. Donna also strikes me as a bit of a control freak who does not handle the unknown very well. When Neal’s attractive neighbor, Sam, offers to help her investigate, she's reluctant to accept his help. I laughed when she made a chart with one side labeled “Cute Sam” and one side “Scary Sam” that outlined the pros and cons of working with the man. Despite her reluctance, Donna and Sam have great chemistry and their sweet, flirty moments added a subtle, romantic touch to the story.

The secondary characters are not quite as rounded as I usually like, but they definitely frame Donna well and help move the plot along. Perhaps the most interesting secondary character is Donna’s cat, Soot. Soot’s battle with the Christmas tree had me laughing out loud.

Donna’s list of suspects is short, but I didn’t connect the dots until right before the murderer was revealed. All the pieces needed to solve the puzzle are present, and I was kicking myself for not picking up on a crucial clue earlier in the story. Once things click into place, the mystery is wrapped up quickly. Justice is served and there are no loose ends.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. It is an all around fun mystery story with a dash of romance mixed in. Anyone looking for an entertaining cozy mystery with a touch of romance should certainly check this story out.