Faith fiction fans of the cozy mystery genre who have enjoyed Peggy Darty’s “A Cozy Mystery” series will find the third installment, WHEN ZEFFIE GOT A CLUE, chugs along in the same gentle vein as its predecessors.
In the first book, WHEN THE SANDPIPER CALLS, Darty introduced amateur sleuth and author Christy Castleman, a young single woman living a stone’s throw from her parents in her Florida panhandle hometown of Summer Breeze, Florida. If you haven’t read SANDPIPER and WHEN BOBBIE SANG THE BLUES, stop reading here. You’ll enjoy the storyline of ZEFFIE more by reading the series in order.
This latest episode has a sweeter-than-sugar beginning. In WHEN BOBBIE SANG THE BLUES, Christy’s Aunt Bobby Bodine was opening a new shop, I Saw It First, a “trash-to-treasures” sort of establishment where Bobby bought old items and made them interesting and saleable. As the new story opens, it’s almost Christmas. Christy is staffing the shop when Zeffie Adams, a young elementary-aged waif shows up with cheap jewelry box to sell. As Christy gently probes the girl for an explanation, she discovers the box once belonged to Zeffie’s deceased mother. Zeffie, who now lives with her grandmother, is selling it to help pay for her grandmother’s medical bills.
Christy generously pays Zeffie more than the box is worth and makes it her mission to ensure Zeffie is taken under the wing of numerous people in the small town of Summer Breeze. Heartstrings, prepare to be tugged!
In a bit of a credibility stretch, Christy discovers a piece of paper under the lining of the jewelry box that holds a clue to a long-ago unsolved murder --- coincidently, the murder of one of Christy’s long-ago friends, Kirby Strickland, who had once saved her from drowning. The plotline follows Christy as she tried to solve the murder. Christy also continues her romance with Dan Brockman, her on-again, off-again boyfriend --- and this time, it looks like a proposal might be in the offing.
Darty does a good job leaving the identity of the killer in question right up until the closing pages. Is it R.J. Wentworth, the owner of a Florida marina, who married Kirby’s girlfriend, Julie Clark, after Kirby died? What about Vince Brown and his wife, Ellen, Kirby’s sister, who inherited the business and palatial house after Kirby’s death? Another suspect, Wayne Crocker, is a ladies man with conquests up and down the coast and a successful boat broker with past ties to Kirby. Della, a housekeeper who quit soon after the murder and Rueben Foster, an alcoholic painter employed by the victim’s family, also leave question marks in Christy’s mind.
The faith themes are strong. As Christy, a pastor’s daughter, gazes on a crystal angel figurine in her bedroom, she prays, “God, please help us bring this murderer to justice.”
Overdescription can slow things down (“Sunlight bounced off the girl’s long blond hair, forming a gauzy halo that lit her face and exaggerated the wisdom and sorrow in her green eyes.”) The dialogue can become stiff (“Christy Castleman! It’s been ages. I enjoy your books, and I see your grandmother often.”) Wordiness also can slow down the pacing: “She would find the person who had killed Kirby. She was onto the killer, and the killer knew it. She knew it too.”
But readers of the series will be delighted to discover the ongoing relationships developing between the characters in the tropical setting of Summer Breeze. It’s nice to see the character of Bobbie making a return appearance as well. Tender-hearted readers will root for a happily-ever-after ending for Zeffie, and Darty doesn’t disappoint. Darty knows what her readers want, and she delivers redemption, a neatly-wrapped up conclusion, and plenty of question marks about the identity of the killer as the plot unfolds in WHEN ZEFFIE GOT A CLUE.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011
When Zeffie Got a Clue: A Cozy Mystery, Book 3