Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Review Tuesday: Tick Tock Dead by L.A. Sartor -- #CozyMystery #Christmas #ReviewTuesday

Tick Tock Dead book cover

Tick Tock Dead by L.A. Sartor

Self-published, 2023

Jenna Hart’s parents were cold and unsupportive, but she has found a second family in the mountain town of Angelcroft, Colorado. In her workshop, located in the same shop as master clockmaker Carl Zwick, she designs custom jewelry, mostly for well-heeled visitors to the old gold-mining settlement turned trendy ski resort.

Even before she was in her teens, Carl was her mentor and substitute parent, encouraging her to follow her artistic dreams. Now he’s well over ninety years old, but he’s still productive, generous and one of her dearest friends. As the holidays approach, Jenna looks forward to the shop’s annual Christmas Eve party, plus her traditional more personal dinner with Carl to celebrate both Christmas and his birthday which falls on December 25th. The seasonal festivities include Jenna’s girlfriend Maggie, owner of the local coffee emporium; Eva Morales (plus her children Roz and Emilio), who serves up both glorious Mexican food and motherly advice; and the new blue-eyed police officer Derek Tripp, imaginary heartthrob of every female in town. Also in attendance is celebrated fantasy author CZ Adams, who’s visiting Angelcroft for a reading and to finish her latest novel.

When wealthy developer Lyle King shows up at the party, drunk and abusive, the mood sours. Lyle publicly threatens Carl, blaming him for blocking a profitable deal. Then when Jenna returns to the shop on Christmas morning, she discovers Carl’s body collapsed in the back hallway, his skull crushed by a brutal blow.

Tick Tock Dead is billed as a “cozy mystery”, but it’s a bit dark, in my opinion, to fit that description. It does have the requisite cat (a black kitten christened Obsidian, or “Obi”), but the book includes more violence and angst than is typical of the genre. This is particularly true because the murder victim is someone who matters. Jenna’s trauma at losing Carl is compounded by attacks on her home and her life. Ms. Sartor does an admirable job showing us how much Jenna cared about her friend and colleague, and how devastated she is by his murder.

I very much enjoyed the setting. The snowy town, torn between preserving its historical authenticity and cashing in on its popularity, felt like a real place. The author’s map provided at the start of the novel helped me to visualize the action. In addition, the book evokes a genuine Christmas feeling. I currently live in the tropics; snow is a distant memory. I don’t generally seek out holiday stories around this time, but I have to admit that the descriptions of Christmas in Colorado made me nostalgic for the beauties of winter.

There were other aspects of the book that I liked less. Jenna is surrounded by people who care about her: Maggie, the Morales family, her ex-husband Ski, his partner Bruce and of course (before his demise) Carl. Even the “bad boys” Emilio Morales and Dig J turn out to have hearts of gold and to be part of the Jenna Hart fan club. This outpouring of love seemed a bit too facile, especially because the book keeps hammering on how these people are Jenna’s surrogate family. I would have liked the novel better if the relationships had been more nuanced, complex and realistic.

I was also disappointed by the final resolution of the mystery. Of course the murderer is not the person you expect; that is the essence of the genre. The tangled tale underlying the crime unraveled itself so quickly, though, that I could barely keep track of the miscreant’s motivations, and I really wasn’t sure I believed in them.

Writing a convincing mystery is really difficult, of course. I know, because I’ve tried myself a couple of times. It takes both talent and deliberation to balance plausibility against surprise. Tick Tock Dead does a better job than many books in the genre. Meanwhile, it offers a pleasant sojourn in a truly delightful locale.

1 comment:

L. A. Sartor said...

Lisabet, thank you for reviewing my book on your blog. Your honest comments are welcome and I appreciate the time you've taken to not only read the book, but review it. Warmly, L.A. Sartor

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