Review: In the Winter Woods – Isabelle Adler
by Isabelle Adler
Publisher: Ninestar Press
Publication Date: December 14, 2020
Genres: Romance, Mystery
Source: the author
I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Declan Kensington isn’t really in the mood for Christmas. His latest mystery book sales are tanking, his finances are in a dismal state, and his spirits are anything but festive. Perhaps spending the holidays alone at his family lakeside cabin in the small village of Maplewood, Vermont, will provide him much-needed peace and quiet. Then he might finally get to work on a new book and (hopefully) jumpstart his stalling writing career.
When he starts receiving anonymous letters threatening him to leave, Declan realizes his solitary writer’s retreat isn’t at all what he bargained for. And if the threats aren’t enough, a killer strikes, casting Declan in the role of the most likely suspect. Now it’s up to him and the handsome local Public Safety Commissioner Curtis Monroe to find out the truth before Declan spends Christmas (and the rest of his life) in jail. But as dead bodies pile up and dark secrets are revealed beneath Maplewood’s picture-perfect facade, Declan’s heart may yet be in more danger than his life…
Content warnings: View Spoiler »murder (off-page, but dead bodies are described), grief over parents’ death (before book started), gun violence (including non-fatal injury) « Hide Spoiler
It’s a cozy mystery! It’s a m/m small town Christmas romance! It’s an absolutely delightful hug of a book!
Declan is a once successful mystery writer whose last books in his series haven’t been selling so well. He knows his writing mojo needs a reboot, and New York City is too expensive, so he decamps to his family’s summer cottage in the small village of Maplewood, Vermont. What he doesn’t expect is receiving a series of threatening messages capped off with a murder. What’s a man to do but pretend to be doing research for a true crime novel while he tries to clear himself of the crime? And if it means he gets to spend more time with Curtis, the handsome public safety commissioner, well, all the better. But will Declan’s snooping put him in the murderer’s crosshairs as well?
“Perhaps I should have been more apprehensive at the prospect of putting myself out there, especially considering we hadn’t actually been on a date yet. It had been just one kiss. We hadn’t even talked about our relationship in more than a few vague hints, but I knew I wasn’t imagining the mutual attraction and yearning that simmered beneath the surface, under the guise of polite interest. I could still taste it on my lips.”
The story was told from Declan’s first person POV. At the beginning of the story, Declan’s more worried about restarting his writing career – and his financial prospects – than getting along with his new neighbors. After all, socializing isn’t going to get a new book written. But the spark of attraction between him and Curtis, the public safety commissioner (the small town disbanded its police department, which I thought was a particularly nice touch), is a distraction, and the murder of his closest neighbor even more so. Being back at the cottage, where he has so many family memories, is also rough for him now that his parents have passed on, and there’s some interesting parallels in how Declan’s walled himself off from his sister and her family and how he attempts to avoid interacting with the townspeople.
“I’d craved this kiss, but I didn’t know just how much. The very scent of him, that understated smell of forest and snow, threatened to overwhelm my senses, and I clung to him desperately[.]”
The romance did feel secondary to the mystery, but it was well done and adorable. Declan was a bit of curmudgeon, but his attraction to Curtis slowly drug him out of his shell. For obvious reasons, their relationship can’t progress much while the investigation is ongoing, but there’s enough yearning and heated glances to make the slow burn worth it. There’s a particularly sweet scene on the village green during the Christmas festival, surrounded by fairy lights and snow, that I just loved.
The mystery portion of the book was excellent. There’s enough red herrings that I was kept guessing about the true murderer and their motives. There’s quite a cast of characters, but they were varied and multi-dimensional enough that I didn’t have any problems keeping them clear in my head.
Overall, this was a delightfully cozy book, and I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking to curl up and escape into small-town at Christmas, preferably with a hot drink and some pancakes with maple syrup!