"Dead to Begin With" by Vivian Conroy
Coming home can be murder.
Vicky Simmons is looking for the simple life. She’s ready to trade in London for a slower pace by opening a British Country Gift Shop in her old hometown on the coast of Maine. Little does she know a few old faces are back in Glen Cove, including unrequited teenage crush Michael Danning—having taken over the local Gazette and looking better than ever.
All is looking rosy until Vicky finds herself face-to-face with a dead body and Michael is the prime suspect. When the sheriff links the motive for murder to the unsolved disappearance of a teenage girl twenty years ago, Vicky must turn amateur sleuth. She’ll stop at nothing to save Michael…and unmask the real killer!
This is an upbeat, charming and cosy read from the author of the hugely enjoyable Lady Alkmene series. Conroy has left the 1920s behind for her brand new amateur sleuth series (#Country Gift Shop) which is set in the modern day world. This new protagonist, Vicky Simmons, lives on the coast of Maine and is as likeable, as endearing and as charismatic as Lady Alkmene. Conroy has stuck with the cosy crime genre and "Dead to Begin With" is a fun, enjoyable and perfectly pitched detective novel that will appeal to crime lovers, Agatha Christie fans as well as those who enjoy a light chick-lit-esque read.
So meet Vicky, who has returned to Glen Cove to set up her own gift shop selling all things English. Throughout the novel, the setting of Maine provides the perfect backdrop to this cozy crime novel. By using a seaside town, Conroy takes the image of a colourful, happy, safe town full of holiday makers and sprinkles a suggestion of something more sinister over the top of it. Not only does this help with creating the right atmosphere for a crime novel and a murder, but it also introduces some tension with the sub plot of Vicky. How successful will her attempts to set up a gift shop in a place that might only bring her custom for half the year?
"In summer, when the tourists flooded in, the town flourished, presenting that postcard idyll holiday makers longer for. It was like the incoming tide, bringing unsuspected riches to the shore. But in the fall the tide became outgoing as the ocean that had lured the tourists now drove them away, cold gusts of wind whipping the sharp sand across the deserted beach and even into the windowsills of cottages that were no longer let."
As we meet some of the characters in Glen Cove and Vicky begins to settle back in, Conroy again emphasises that despite appearing like a pretty, safe, tourist fuelled town, there is more to Glen Cove than meets the eye - specifically an unsolved mystery of a missing girl, which surely can't have anything to do with the local residents?!
"Glen Cove was such a friendly little place where people only wanted the best for each other. It was impossible someone would have lived among them for over twenty years, hiding such a dark secret."
It isn't long before Vicky finds herself caught up in solving the mystery of Celine's disappearance from twenty years ago. Unwittingly she becomes embroiled in Michael Danning's amateur investigation into the unsolved case which soon sees them not only discovering a new murdered body but also trying to make sure they are not the prime suspects.
"Some fine mess this was. She was going to be questioned by the police again. This time not because she happened to be in college with a girl gone missing, but because she had found a dead body!"
Vicky has returned home and finds herself living with her mother Claire. There is a fun dynamic between the women and Claire's vivacious character adds humour as well as perceptive observations and comments which help the reader get to know Vicky's character more fully. I liked Claire's statement that she's "not nosy; I just like to know things," and her accusation that Vicky only came back to see Michael Danning again draws our attention to the possibility of a potential romance. There is indeed tension between Michael and Vicky which adds another layer to the plot.
Vicky is our new protagonist and I really liked her. She is a bright, determined woman who has no intention to become a detective or indeed seek out a crime to solve. As with all the best amateur sleuths, it is just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time - or perhaps meeting up with the wrong person at the wrong time. She can't believe that there may be a murderer amongst this innocent town of happy people and even tries to hand everything over to the police, but Danning and Conroy have other plans for her.
I also enjoyed the sub plot of Vicky's attempts at setting up her gift shop and think this provides a good distraction as well as a great way of revealing more about her character.
"Vicky always got defensive when people told her she couldn't do something. Challenge was the biggest trigger word in her book."
I don't want to give anything away about the storyline but what I enjoyed most about this book was that it moves along at a very comfortable pace. I wouldn't say it gripped me but I would say I was very reluctant to put it down! I was really enjoying being part of Glen Cove and felt very settled and relaxed within Conroy's story. It is a crime novel; there is a mystery, there are twists and turns and moments of great revelations and I was caught up in the anticipation, suspense and tension as it jogs along to its grand finale. Sometimes it is a relief to read something without your heart rate accelerating beyond what is healthy and without your blood pressure shooting off the scale!
This is a story of disappearance, murder, jealousy, revenge and all things deliciously criminal, yet it is a remarkably cheerful read and there is a lightness throughout the whole book. This really would be the perfect book to take on your next seaside break or to enjoy with your favourite box of chocolates on a Sunday afternoon. You will not want to put it down.
"Dead to Begin With" draws you in with it's charm, warmth, likeable characters, lively dialogue and an intriguing tale of an unsolved mystery from Vicky's past. I really enjoyed the dialogue and the way it drove the action forward.
Vicky makes a competent and enjoyable sleuth and a great central protagonist for a new crime series. Her excitement about her shop and all she might stock is also infectious and I for one am rooting for its success. As the last line of the book claims:
"The Country Gift Shop was off to a roaring start."
And so is the first instalment in the Country Gift Shop series. I'm very much looking forward to the next book!
So if you've enjoyed Conroy's other novels, or are a fan of writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers you must look out for "Dead to Begin With" which was published on 13th January 2017 by HQ Digital.
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)