Review

The Book of Old Houses: A Home Repair Is Homicide Mystery

by Sarah Graves

Professor Dave DiMaio is on a revenge mission. His good friend,
bookseller Horace Robotham, has been murdered. DiMaio brings his
.22 revolver as he heads for Eastport, Maine, where he hopes to
settle up. There, he finds Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree in
her old money pit of a house, impulsively dismantling her ancient
bathroom with a sledgehammer. DiMaio knew that Robotham had Jake's
book --- the ancient, written-in-blood book that listed all the
residents of Jake's house (including Jake). The book has gone
missing, and DiMaio suspects he knows who has it and who killed his
friend.

Meanwhile, DiMaio asks Jake to hide his gun for him, which she does
in a cellar lockbox. He claims he only brought the firearm because
he had the jitters, but that doesn't ring true for Jake, who is
very concerned about his motives. DiMaio can't stay with Jake
(especially since there is no bathroom now). He moves into a motel
while asking pointed questions of the townsfolk about one crackpot
local named Bert Merkle. DiMaio believes that Merkle, with all his
talk of flying saucers and little green men, stole the book and
killed Robotham.

Jake and her sidekick, Ellie, are right on DiMaio's trail, hoping
to prevent another death while also finding out the truth about
Robotham's murder and Jake's missing book. Their urgency is
complicated by the fact that DiMaio's gun is now missing. Plus,
Jake had agreed long ago to have an enormous, formal tea party for
the town-revered Merrie Fargeorge, an ex-schoolteacher who just
happens to hate Jake. The party is rapidly looming, even as Jake
discovers her claw-foot tub perilously lodged in her staircase.
Jake is also concerned about her housekeeper, Bella, who is not
reacting well to Jake's father's marriage proposal. And, as always,
her worry over Sam, her teenage son newly returned from drug rehab,
is ever present.

Jake cannot resist her detective instincts. Along the way, she
discovers new suspects. Could the killer/book thief possibly be
wannabe-writer Ann Talbert? Sure, Talbert is demanding the book so
she can write her "erotic paranormal historical-fiction novel with
grippingly suspenseful romantic over-tones and cutting-edge
science-fiction subplots, told from the point of view of Mary
Magdalene." But her demands could well be a cover-up. On the other
hand, teen Jason Riverton (a friend of Merkle) seems suspicious,
since he has wallpapered his black-painted bedroom with every
article ever printed about Robotham's death. Even if Riverton had
nothing to do with the murder, what is his connection with
Merkle?

Nancy Drew fans have long implored her not to enter the big creepy
house; in the Home Repair is Homicide books, the detective
actually lives in that falling-down mansion. Jake is an endearing
character in a cast of colorful locals. Her descriptions of home
repairs gone awry are downright laugh-out-loud hysterical to anyone
who has undergone old house remodeling (she describes turning on
the tap in her bathroom, only to have the handles snap off in her
hand, "followed by a geyser so forceful, it hosed all the mildew
off the places where the blackish stuff had flourished for
decades…"). Her ancient book, written in blood, is
intriguing, and author Sarah Graves dishes up some late plot
twists.

Readers are unlikely to care that the mystery really doesn't rev up
until late in the novel and that it takes a bit of a rear seat to
the rest of Jake's life; these books are way too much fun
to miss out on. New fans will join the rest of us in counting down
the days until the next Home Repair is Homicide mystery is
released in 2009.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 7, 2011

The Book of Old Houses: A Home Repair Is Homicide Mystery
by Sarah Graves

  • Publication Date: November 25, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553588036
  • ISBN-13: 9780553588033