Ann H. Gabhart's trilogy ANGEL SISTER, SMALL TOWN GIRL, and LOVE COMES HOME
remains among my favorite reads Those novels begin in the Great Depression and take three sisters through their growing up years into the war and beyond and adulthood. Her in-depth characterization which mixes childhood innocence and the ability to see truth where adults see nothing has been compared to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. While I have not read Gabhart's contemporary fiction or her Shaker novels, I know they have a popular following, so when I saw she has launched a new mystery series, I wanted to read the first title :MURDER AT THE COURTHOUSE.
Miss Willadean, an eccentric spinster who shows up each day to greet widower Neville Gravitt who works in the county clerk's office, finds a slumped over body on the courthouse steps. As Miss Willadean tells all, it is her Christian duty to bring a little joy into the poor Neville's day, but that day she reports the body, who she suspects is a vagrant in a drunken stupor, to the Sheriff's office.
Michael Keane, current deputy sheriff, quickly ascertains that the body is deceased and obviously through foul play. Keane, who has returned to his hometown after a stint as a big city police officer, never expects that he would be working a murder investigation in sleepy little Hidden Springs, Kentucky, but when the sheriff ends up in the hospital, Michael is under pressure to get the case solved.
Writers of series books must work creatively to match up the main plot line to the current book while simultaneously laying the ground work for the complete series. In this novel, Gabhart must give us background story to the mysterious dead body, provide some suspects and motive, all the while building a community story around Michael, his deceased parents, his aunt, two slight love interests, and some eccentric side kicks. She does accomplish all that, but at times I felt the story felt disjointed. There is a young teen who plays a crucial role in the book, and she did a good job creating a connection between him and Michael. That said, I never felt a connection to the villian, although I was quite certain he would end up being the murderer. In the end, I felt all the crimes he committed did not match with the person he was supposed to be in Hidden Springs, but then I often feel that disconnect in "cozy mysteries."
Readers looking for a new Christian cozy mystery series might want to check out Hidden Springs. While I wish Gabhart success in continuing this series, I sincerely hope she returns to the more powerful, mult-layered writing of the Rosy Corner trilogy. I received a copy of this book from Revell Reads for my honest review.