Nutshell: Looking for a cozy mystery that’s heavy on characters but light on grue? You’ve found it here. While I would have liked a more tied-in death to make the story feel relevant to the main characters, Cahoon has a lovely way with storytelling that will hook you immediately. Grade: A-
In South Cove, California, Jill Gardner – owner of Coffee, Books, and More – is getting her store, her coffee truck, and the rest of the South Cove businesses ready for a beach festival. And there’s a new business getting ready to open; Tea Hee, a specialty shop run by former beauty queen Kathi Corbin. As the fellas in the business association get all twitterpated, Kathi’s sister Ivy comes to town, and the discomfort between the two sisters is palpable. When a dead body is discovered at the local no-tell motel, things start looking grim for Kathi. Can Jill and her honey, Detective Greg King, figure it all out before Kathi’s in hot water?
Full disclosure; I received a copy of this book as my first dip into Cahoon’s “Tourist Trap” series. But going in blind didn’t hamper my enjoyment. Anyone new to the series can easily jump in here; Cahoon’s light touch with exposition keeps things easy to follow. Word of warning, however: as this is a series, there will be more than a few call-backs to earlier mysteries in the series. Luckily, Carnage is a lovely read, and I’m betting the earlier stories are just as much fun.
Jill is a fully fleshed out character that’s easy to identify with, in an “I’d bet we’d be friends” kinda way. And her maybe-boyfriend-maybe-more Greg is a nice mix of sweet, strong and smokin’ hot. Not too bad there, Jill. As with most cozies, there are tons of characters, but they – and their various subplots – are easy to follow. And speaking of easy, so’s figuring out who did it in this story. That’s really not too much of a problem though, because in Carnage, it’s how the murder mystery affects the people of South Cove, and how their various subplots weave through the main narrative, rather than who killed whom. It’s a rare cozy that can balance mystery and character development, but Cahoon does it well.
The only problem I have is the person who got whacked never makes an appearance beyond the “he’s dead, Jim” discussions after the fact. All that is offstage. Way, way offstage. Luckily, the characters, and Cahoon’s light, easygoing way with a story, makes the journey through this mystery worthwhile.
Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, pour yourself a cup of tea, and enjoy a mystery that’s not too mysterious. Carnage is perfect midpoint novel in this series, with hints of bigger things to come even as Jill, Greg, Toby, and the crew do their thing. That’s probably why it was so easy for me to jump in. If you’re sick of noir, gothic, or other mystery subgenres that are so convoluted it’s exhausting, check out this series. And definitely begin with book 1; if Carnage is any indication, you’ll want to sink all the way in. I know I’ll be looking for more.
[Kensington Books/Lyrical Underground, 2016. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. I received nothing for my review beyond the copy of the book. Not even a decaf mocha, no whip.]