Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Walled Flower by Lorraine Bartlett

Published by Berkley Prime Crime, New York
Review based on ARC

 What a stressful life our Katie Bonner is living these days! Aside from her daily routines at the Artisans Alley, which are about to be interrupted in a less than happy way, she is rushing around to find a place to live and down to a very short deadline since her apartment has been rented out already. Then one of her vendors talks her into becoming her Matron of Honour (and must have read and copied every book on a Matron of Honour's duty), with a deadline just over a week away. Another vendor is adamantly demanding that her neighbouring vendor be arrested for stealing with no proof whatsoever, and her dream to own and operate the old Webster mansion for a Bed and Breakfast is revived again when the property goes up for sale---and again she can't afford it. It does sell, though, and the new owners are planning on doing exactly what Katie had planned, they are renovating the house to be a Bed and Breakfast, with many of the same ideas Katie had.

Lorraine Bartlett knows how to write sharp, witty, intriguing mysteries, often with several smoothly entwined in a single book, a book that is very hard to put down. I think this is the best yet. New characters come and go, and some remain adding to the population of Victoria Square. I love the title of the book and how it fits with the story. There is indeed a "walled flower", not the kind of flower you would expect, but one forever caught in the bloom of its life. Katie is about to uncover this flower when she makes a welcoming visit to the new neighbours, who are busily tearing down a wall. They allow her to try her hand with the mallet which she does with the relish and zeal of a thwarted homeowner, breaking away pieces until she suddenly realizes something is inside the wall. The skeleton of a young woman, obviously in the wall for many years, the walled flower, a death too soon. At this point an over-stressed Katie issues what must be the understatement of the decade, "Well, this could ruin your day."

As the insensitive and formidable homicide Detective Ray Davenport arrives and the area is cordoned off, Rose Nash, one of the older vendors at Artisan's Alley and a special friend to Katie, is allowed in when it appears she may have information about the body. She is able to identify the locket the skeleton is wearing and identifies the girl as her niece Heather, who disappeared 22 years before. From the moment of identification, this story takes on a life of its own, involving many people, possible suspects, and more bodies piling up. As usual, the detective does not seem to be moving, or at the very least moving in the right direction, so Rose becomes Katie's sidekick as they investigate together, a partnership I found very satisfying and would enjoy seeing again. Rose proves herself reliable and quick.

In the meantime, between the looming wedding, the accusations of thefts, a child left unattended by the accusator, the hunt for a place to live (and wondering why current boyfriend Andy won't let her rent his apartment over the store) and more, Katie is quickly becoming overwhelmed. Searching for an apartment introduces her to some very strange owners! She is aided, and sometimes abetted, by various members of the Alley. Many surprises are in store for the reader. This is an enjoyable romp with action all through. I did not want to put the book down, though I often felt I needed to catch my breath. A wonderful cozy read.

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