by Tracy Gardner
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
There’s an art to solving a mystery…
Savanna Shepherd is a former art authenticator—someone who can tell a forgery from the real thing. She’s got a talent for spotting secrets hiding in plain sight.
In the wake of a painful breakup, she moves back to her idyllic hometown on the banks of Lake Michigan. At least she’s close to her sisters again, and she’s enjoying her new job as a grade school art teacher.
Savanna even rediscovers her creative soul when an old family friend hires her to paint a mural. But sad and strange incidents occur at the woman’s mansion, compelling Savanna to investigate. With a little help from her sisters—and from Aidan, the intriguing town doctor—will she be able to figure out what’s wrong with this picture?
While I normally review romances, or at least books with a pretty heavy romantic element, I’m taking a slight detour here. When I was in college, I absolutely devoured cozy mystery series, especially anything involving cats or crafts. When I saw that Hallmark was releasing a mystery novel, I was extremely curious. I’m glad I took a chance! This is a pretty enjoyable small-town cozy mystery, with a dash of romance on the side.
After a breakup, Savanna’s quit her big city job as a museum art authenticator and moved back to her small Lake Michigan hometown. Surrounded by her parents and sisters and content with her new job as an elementary art teacher, things seem to be going well, until a friend of her honorary grandmother, Caroline, ends up dead. Things aren’t quite adding up, and with the help of a cute doctor, Savanna soon finds herself using her skills to stop the killer before he strikes again.
First off, while this is a mystery, the whole investigation plot took a while to pick up steam. It’s understandable, as Savanna has a lot going between a new job, reacclimating to her hometown, and getting over being dumped by her fiancé. A good portion of the first half of the book revolves around her settling back in with her family and her job, and introducing all the various characters to us. It’s no surprise that she initially waves away her suspicions about the paintings, and the death of Caroline’s elderly friend is sudden, but not so strange for an elderly woman. Once it’s obvious that something is going on, the pacing starts to pick up, and the last quarter of the book was quite engrossing.
One of the book’s strengths is the focus on Savanna’s family. I especially loved her relationships with her sisters, Skylar and Sydney, and her nephew. It was also sweet to see her form relationships with her students, and with one of the students’ parents, in particular. Aidan, the love interest, was interesting, and I liked seeing the beginnings of a relationship between them. The small town setting was charming, and it was nice seeing her pick back up her relationships with Caroline and other people from her past. I liked Savanna, and I empathized with her journey to reinvent her life. Of course, her previous art talents are brought in to help investigate the mystery, and I loved how competent she was at her job. Honestly, while I can see where some of the nitty gritty technical detail about how to tell a forgery from a real painting could turn some readers off, I really enjoyed that portion of the book, and I wished that she would’ve had more opportunities to put those skills to use.
And finally, one quibble. It’s very white, and very upper class. Savanna’s eccentric almost-grandma owns a Monet, for goodness’ sakes, and has a doctor who does house calls. Savanna herself is financially stable enough that she can afford to take a job as an elementary art school teacher (and the school district must be doing well indeed if they still have full time art teachers!). It’s a bit of a silly thing to bring up, as most cozy mysteries have similar demographics, but there were enough eye-rolling moments (oh, Caroline only has TWO pieces from this world famous artist?) that I figured I’d mention it.
Overall, this was a sweet cozy mystery with just enough romance to keep me happy. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the author’s future books!