Secrets and Scrabble: Secret At Skull House – Josh Lanyon
Ellery Page is back–and in hot water again!
Unlike everyone else in Pirate’s Cove, Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, reigning Scrabble champion, and occasionally clueless owner of the village’s only mystery bookstore, is anything but thrilled when famed horror author Brandon Abbott announces he’s purchased legendary Skull House and plans to live there permanently.
Ellery and Brandon have history. Their relationship ended badly and the last thing Ellery wants is a chance to patch things up–especially when his relationship with Police Chief Jack Carson is just getting interesting. But then, maybe Brandon isn’t all that interested in getting back together either, because he seems a lot more interested in asking questions about the bloodstained past of his new home than discussing a possible future with Ellery. What is Brandon really up to?
Ellery will have to unscramble that particular puzzle post haste. Because after his former flame disappears following their loud and public argument, Ellery seems to be Police Chief Carson’s first–and only–suspect.
***This story contains no on-screen sex or violence
Once again, Ellery Page is the prime suspect for murder. The victim was his very, very unlikable ex, Brandon Abbott. I’m sure no tears were shed for this guy who always threw shade at Ellery every chance he got.
You couldn’t help but love Ellery. Any other person would have sold the failing bookstore, packed his bags and hightailed it out of that murder island. Not Ellery. He was very determined to stick it out and make it work.
He has a tendency to not so much as work his way into things but more of stumble his way into them. Like how his play became an unexpected comedic success when it was actually written as a serious story. Or suddenly realizing his scrabble pieces were pointing him in oddly case-specific directions.
Jack Carson, the police chief, hinted here and there that there might be romantic interest in his Person Of Interest. He even outright asked him for a date. For which I’m giving a halle-fucking-luya about time! because the hot/cold treatment is killing Ellery and the rest of us poor readers here.
I know I said before I would be okay if him and Jack will just be friends. Let me add a caveat that this is as long as the author don’t string us along in the future books.
However, if these two keep on giving off those uber-tight USTs, which, for a book without anything explicit, Josh Lanyon managed to make quite palpable, I would riot if they don’t end up together.
And that ending! Put us out of our misery please!
Okay, so the mystery. I didn’t care about who killed Brandon Abbott. Like I said, the guy was an asshole. What kept me going was, first, the engaging storytelling coupled with great narration. The author always had a way of keeping me glued to the book. This is especially important because she always puts a lot of problematic characters. That’s why her books are a hit or miss for me. Mostly hit so far.
Second, I enjoyed how she made Buck Island come to life. Ellery is surrounded by characters. As in “s/he is such a character!“. I think this is one of the perks of reading cozies, you get the quirky and the cutesy.
Many of these people were native to Buck Island, The island transplants were forever seen as outsiders. Ellery is somewhere in between. His family has been in Buck Island since the beginning but he was from New York. This created an interesting dynamic between him and the rest of the islanders.
Buck Island was built by pirates. There were some historical mansions own by the original founding families scattered throughout. One of these houses was own by the Page family. Skull House was also one of these historical structures and was the site of a murder and mysterious disappearance 20 years ago.
I really liked how the local folklore and history were interwoven with the mystery. There were parallels between the past and present and true to form, Ellery stumbles into the one person connecting them all.
But you know, if you think about it, for an island this small, there seemed to be too many murderers lurking about. Do cozies, or mysteries for that matter, always have to be about a murder? Could they just be about pirate treasures instead?
At this point in time, Ellery should permanently change his FB / Twitter status to “I didn’t do it.”
Find out how Ellery fared as a first-time murder suspect in Secrets and Scrabble book 1, Murder At Pirate’s Cove. Review here.
Read reviews of Josh Lanyon’s hits and and misses here.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Soundtrack: I Didn’t Do It
Artist: Larry Warren
Album: I Don’t Want To Sleep Because I’m In Wonderful Colorado!0
Secrets and Scrabble: Murder at Pirate’s Cove – Josh Lanyon
Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!
Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.
Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.
I’m super excited about this latest Josh Lanyon series!
I read a lot of mysteries from procedurals to paranormals but I think this might be the first time I’ve come across a true blue MM cozy.
Lanyon loves paying homage to classic golden age mysteries and to the genre as a whole which is something I really liked about her. Many of her MCs are mystery writers and/or bookstore owners, sometimes antique dealers, frequently with love interests involved in law enforcement.
Her latest protagonist’s name is Ellery Page (love the name!). He is a screenwriter, an abysmally bad actor and the owner of Crow’s Nest, a failing bookstore inherited from a long-lost dead relative. He lives in a mansion that’s literally falling apart as we speak. Also inherited from said dead relative.
I liked that the story was written in Ellery’s third person POV instead of a first person POV. As with most of her protagonists, his ‘voice’ brings in those colorful snarky descriptions frequently deployed by writers to make things more dramatic. I had fun going through his thoughts but I wish Lanyon would shake things up and write from the more stoic love interest’s POV too.
As genre tradition dictates, our amateur sleuth pokes his nose into other people’s business in an effort to clear his name of murder. Most of it involved soliciting gossip from people who were very much willing to share. This is safe enough. But then there was one TSTL-ish moment when he did a little B & E on a dead man’s house. Aaargh!!! I was so exasperated! I wanted to smack him in the head for stupidity.
We also meet Police Chief Jack Carson, the lead investigator of the case who time and time again warned Ellery to stay out of trouble. Carson is your usual Lanyon love interest. At first glance, an abrasive man of few words who as the story progressed would reveal his hidden not-so-bad-afterall side. This happens in almost every Lanyon book but somehow I’m not tired of it yet. I still get a thrill whenever the ‘good’ side is revealed
He and Ellery oh so slowly edged towards a tentative friendship. And that’s all there is. This story has no romance and zero steam. This is a big plus for me.
The story is set in a quaint seaside town of Pirate’s Cove. I’m the type of reader who typically gloss over descriptions of places so I’m glad that the book was able to establish a sense of place and town culture without boring me with too much details. We are also introduced to a fair share of quirky town fixtures sure to pop up in many of the books.
I had a great time letting the story unfold. The mystery was a good one. I couldn’t guess who the murderer was until the very end. I only realized on hindsight that major clues were dropped and I totally missed them.
Murder at Pirate’s Cove is a quintessential cozy. Even with the templates fully in place, they do not detract to how enjoyable everything is. The author was able to keep things fresh and engaging. All in all, this is a charming little addition to her oeuvre.
Recommended if you like amateur sleuths who couldn’t lie to save their life, pirate cosplay murders and puppies who wouldn’t quit.
Josh Lanyon books here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits0
Snow & Winter: The Mystery of Nevermore – C.S. Poe
It’s Christmas, and all antique dealer Sebastian Snow wants is for his business to make money and to save his floundering relationship with closeted CSU detective, Neil Millett. When Snow’s Antique Emporium is broken into and a heart is found under the floorboards, Sebastian can’t let the mystery rest.
He soon finds himself caught up in murder investigations that echo the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe. To make matters worse, Sebastian’s sleuthing is causing his relationship with Neil to crumble, while at the same time he’s falling hard for the lead detective on the case, Calvin Winter. Sebastian and Calvin must work together to unravel the mystery behind the killings, despite the mounting danger and sexual tension, before Sebastian becomes the next victim.
In the end, Sebastian only wants to get out of this mess alive, and live happily ever after with Calvin.
The Mystery of Nevermore is the first book of the cozy mystery series, Snow & Winter, featuring an antique dealer who is completely colorblind and a closeted police detective with PTSD.
There are many things here that shouldn’t have worked. There’s Sebastian cheating on a boyfriend he has not officially dumped. Yes it was cheating, Seb, even if your relationship has been circling the drain for a long time now. There’s also his million and one borderline annoying I-know-it’s-stupid-but-I’ll-do-it-anyway moments. Calvin sleeping with the person of interest even though he was the lead detective in an active case. Him discussing details of the case to said POI.
Despite all of these, the book was too engrossing for me to stay away, even with the cheating part. Sebastian was brave but also stupid and very, very exasperating but there was something about the way his POV was written and his dorkish personality that drew me in. I guess that’s why Calvin couldn’t stay away
A big factor as well was that the mystery threw me in for a loop. I put good money on Max, the shop assistant. I was so sure it was him but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
However, I think the story could benefit from a dual POV. Sebastian going from POI to baby in a snap was enough to give me whiplash. I wanted to get inside Calvin’s head and see how he got from point A to point B. There’s also his hot/cold treatment of Seb and the closeted issue to deal with but I liked Cal because he willing to take steps in the right direction.
I wouldn’t say I loved this but I definitely liked this a lot. Even with the wonky bits, majority of the book worked well enough for me to look forward to the rest of the series. Do read if you are interested in an amateur sleuth who sees the world in shades of grey
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love0
The Blake Harte Mysteries is what it says on the tin: A head scratching collection of impossible crimes featuring Detective Sergeant Blake Harte, set in the small picturesque village of Harmschapel. Police procedural with dark themes and romantic undertones.
The cases were locked room mysteries They were a tad predictable when it comes to the who part, but it’s the hows and whys of the crime that were really clever. The stories were nice, compact and to the point, revealing only the need-to-knows when you need to know them. The mysteries take center stage but the romantic subplot is equally compelling. I love how it was paced. It’s appropriately slow-burn and low-key yet very endearing. I also enjoyed the somewhat wry humor sprinkled throughout. Overall, there is a good balance between the different elements.
Blake is good at what he does. I was immediately drawn to his personality and loved how that drove the stories. He is empathetic man of many talents, among which, a good singer. Harrison started out timid and scared and it’s great to witness how his character grew into a happier, more confident young man. I love the two of them together.
Blake’s team were mostly compose of young, eager to please coppers, Mini Patil and Billy Mattison. He also has a prickly sergeant, Michael Gardner, with whom he had an antagonistic relationship having been the man who was after the position Blake now filled. Mini and Matti were great supporting characters. Their office romance added another exciting thread to follow. Meanwhile, Gardner is the kind of idiot that makes you wonder how he reached the position of sergeant. His blanket assumptions and acerbic comments provided some of the comic relief.
Other characters include Jacqueline, Blake’s meddling landlady, Sally Ann, his best friend and also a detective from Manchester, and Betty, Harrison’s goat. Who takes an instant like? dislike? who knows, to Blake, head-butting him the every time they meet. This is a gag that runs throughout the series.
This is a review of the first 4 books.
1. Blake Harte Mysteries: Untouchable – Robert Innes
Harrison Baxter lives on a farm with his parents, on the outskirts of the village of Harmschapel. It’s picturesque, idyllic and tranquil – but Harrison is far from happy. His parent’s marriage is strained to say the least and on top of that, his boyfriend, Daniel, has been mentally and physically abusing him for years. After he finds himself with one bruise too many, Harrison has had enough. But when he plucks up the courage to finally end his violent relationship, Harrison’s life is changed forever when Daniel is found murdered in the most bizarre circumstances.
Detective Sergeant Blake Harte has moved to Harmschapel after his own relationship ended in tatters. But moving to a quiet village after working his way up the ranks in a city brings its own set of problems and Blake soon finds himself at odds with new colleagues who aren’t used to his style of policing. But when he is called upon to investigate the mysterious and impossible murder at Halfmile Farm, Blake finds himself facing the most challenging case of his career.
So how can Daniel have been shot in a locked shed that nobody could possibly have escaped from?
Is anybody really Untouchable?
Untouchable introduces DS Harte as he was moving to Harmschapel after a bad break-up with his ex-fiance who he found in bed with a woman. His first day on the job immediately lands him a case. This is where we meet Harrison, a victim of abuse from his ex-boyfriend who was also the murder victim.
Blake and his team were called to handle some trouble at the Halfmile farm. Daniel, a repeat offender and Harrison’s boyfriend, was locked in the shed by Harrison’s father after he witness him beating his son. Harrison had just broken up with him and Daniel reacted badly. He was put in the shed, very much alive, held there until the police arrived. But when Blake opened the shed, out popped his corpse. Upon inspection, there was no way anybody could have shot him from inside or outside the shed.
This books sets the noirish tone of the series. It tackled domestic abuse from a different perspective. Many of the twists caught me off guard although I found the motive, the set-up and murder weapon to be a bit far-fetched. It begged the question why go through all that trouble when there were simpler ways of getting rid of an unwanted person?
Regardless of the believability, I found myself hooked. I’m glad that the author did not push the romance angle at this point, only leaving hints of a potential love interest at the end.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
2. Blake Harte Mysteries: Confessional – Robert Innes
Book 2 in The Blake Harte Mysteries series! A head scratching collection of impossible crimes featuring Detective Sergeant Blake Harte, set in the small picturesque village of Harmschapel. Police procedural with dark themes and romantic undertones.
St Abra’s church is harbouring a dark secret. Several elderly parishioners have been found dead in the church’s confessions booth, all appearing to have suffered fatal heart attacks.
But when another, much younger body is discovered in exactly the same way, Detective Sergeant Blake Harte must investigate how it is possible for the confessions booth to be killing off its occupants. Dark forces are at play, forcing Blake to believe it’s more than just tragic coincidence.
Are the deaths a punishment for the sins confessed, or are there ulterior motives in play? In a race against the clock, only Blake can discover the long-kept secrets and lies hiding in the shadows before they tear apart the sleepy village of Harmschapel.
The second book features an interesting take on the lock room mystery. Elderly people were dying from a heart attack inside a confessional. This would have been dismissed had it not been for the fact that a teenage also died a similar death in the same place.
The story tackled the issue of family, gender and homosexuality in the church. One of the main suspects was a lesbian female priest who had conflict with the elderly people who died. Meanwhile, Harrison was befriended by the verger who was also the grandson of the vicar. After a day or two, they started a relationship.
I liked how everything came together. The climax was very dramatic and tragic. It gave way for Harrison to finally realize how Blake felt about him.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
3. Blake Harte Mysteries: Ripples by Robert Innes
When Detective Sergeant Blake Harte is given the opportunity of a relaxing week away at a spa manor, he jumps at the opportunity. He can take one person with him – and who more than Harrison Baxter deserves time away from Harmschapel after everything he has been through?
But once at the Manor of the Lakes, the rest and relaxation they both crave is quickly brought to an end, when Blake and Harrison witness a man being murdered, by a mysterious hooded figure who appears to have the ability to walk on water.
How is it possible for someone to defy the laws of physics? And Blake’s problems are only just beginning. The visit to the manor finds him coming face to face with figures from his past – and one in particular who could ruin any chance of Blake and Harrison ever being happy together.
The ripple effect is well and truly in play…
The third book had Blake and Harrison locked inside a room while witnessing a murder happening outside.
Before that, Jacqueline set them up for a vacation at a very picturesque manor with two lakes. They came together with the understanding not to rush things and just be friends because Harrison has things to sort out in his head.
This is also where we meet Blake’s ex, Nathan and Divina, the woman with whom he cheated Blake with and who is now his wife. As to be expected, there was tension and things that needed closure. It is also safe to assume that they were both somehow involved in the case.
This case was not in Blake’s jurisdiction but the off-duty detective couldn’t resist especially when it also involves showing up his grouchy old supervisor. The murder victim was a horrible person with no friends. The circumstances of the murder was very mysterious. There was a hooded figure, previously seen haunting the resort grounds, who seemed to walk on water and stab the victim in the middle of the lake. The investigations revealed feuding families, a Romeo and Juliet romance, a terminally ill woman and a contested property.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
4. Blake Harte Mysteries: Reach by Robert Innes
Seven years ago Thomas Frost was arrested for the murders of five women in the Manchester area and Detective Sergeant Blake Harte was the officer in charge of his arrest, saving the life of Kerry Nightingale in the process. Now, Frost has promised that Kerry was never safe and she’ll be dead within a few days.
Sure enough, somehow, Kerry is found dead in her top floor apartment – a place that was being guarded by Blake and the apartment’s security. How is it possible for Kerry to have been murdered in her apartment when nobody could have gotten in or out?
Did Thomas Frost somehow manage to murder Kerry from his prison cell? Who else could want to see her dead quite as much? As Blake and the team attempt to stop a killer who is seemingly capable of anything, he could never imagine that for somebody else in Harmschapel, time is also ticking
This installment introduces the Moriarity to Blake’s Sherlock. The POV also shifted from Harrison’s to a new character who was up to his neck in trouble.
The case of Thomas Frost, dubbed by the media as Jack Frost, was the case that earned Blake his detective title. Frost is a serial killer who strangled several women to death. He is currently locked in a high security prison but still managed to threaten a woman, his last victim who Blake was able to save seven year ago.
The new POV was from Jamie, a young security guard who was madly in love with Kerry Nightingale, the victim. Even if I already have some inklings, the author still did a good job setting Jamie up as the prime suspect. I enjoyed the build up and the big reveal. Frost was also effective as the archvillain and it’s pretty obvious that we have not seen the last of Blake’s nemesis.
Romance-wise, Blake and Harrison are doing well. They’re taking their relationship to the next level and Harrison is moving in. They have to do something about Betty though.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
As I mentioned, I’m addicted to this series. I know this has mixed reviews and I agree with some of the negative comments but I really enjoyed the writing, the characters, Paul Woodson’s narration and most of all, the overall feel of the stories. Recommended if you like cozy mysteries with mind-boggling MOs, eager young coppers brimming with spark and enthusiasm, and dashing British detectives with cute boyfriends.0