Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Inked Up - Terri Thayer

Inked Up
A Stamping Sisters Mystery
Terri Thayer
Berkley Prime Crime


Halloween in Aldenville, PA means the annual Pumpkin Express. It’s a group of seven businesses, each of which hosts a themed attraction. The challenge for the attendees is to get to each attraction in one day, getting a ‘passport’ stamped at each place. This year, Dowling Nursery is hosting a corn maze. The owner, Suzi, calls on her crafting group buddies to help staff the place. April Buchert, a stamper and home restoration expert, jumps in to help, even though she has an irrational fear of corn mazes. Still, just working the gate and stamping hands can’t be too traumatic.

Of course, by the end of the day, someone has lost a camera in the maze, and Suzi asks April to go look for it. She takes her boyfriend, Mitch Winchester, as moral support. Mitch has been busy this fall, too, starting Winchester Homes for Hope, an organization that builds homes for families in need. The Villarreal family will be getting the first house, being the most qualified of all the applicants. Sadly, in the small town, there are plenty of people who don’t like the idea. They see the surname and assume that the Villarreal’s are illegal immigrants undeserving of help.

Walking through the maze is scary enough for April, and when they get turned around and darkness begins to fall, Mitch suggests simply cutting through the dried cornstalks. That’s how they find the body. It’s Xenia Villarreal, the wife and mother of the family planning to get the first house. She’d been at April’s home just the night before, picking out paint colors for the walls and discussing, with no little excitement, stamping decoration ideas for the children’s’ rooms. Officer Yost is the first on the scene, and he instantly wants to arrest Pedro, Xenia’s devoted husband. Both April and Mitch know that’s wrong, and they know that Yost doesn’t care if he gets the right guy, just as long as he can book an arrest. Mitch, April, and her stamping group are going to have to be very crafty this time around; they’re playing with local politics and prejudices.

This is the second in a series (STAMPED OUT) and is a much more polished story. The scene where Xenia and April bond over decorating ideas and dreams, and Xenia speaks with such real love about her family makes her death so much more ‘real’ and jarring when it happens. This wasn’t the one person everyone hated, so everyone has a motive. She was a woman married to the love of her life, raising five kids, thrilled about finally getting a real home. To see her life cut short puts the reader squarely in the corner of April and Mitch and those investigating the death.

There’s more character development this time around, and much of centers on the reactions and lives of the remaining Villarreal’s. Of course there are suspects, mainly from a pool of people who were opposed to the Homes for Hope project in the first place, or those who opposed the idea of a home going to ‘foreigners,’ even though Pedro had worked at the country club for years. The ‘civic pride run amok’ theme works very well here, and there are some subplots and another murder that happens late in the game. By that time, it’s really fairly easy to see who the murderer is, but there are other stories playing out around it, so it’s not much of a disappointment. Far from a sophomore slump, I – uncharacteristically – enjoyed this second installment much more than the first.

Rating: 7
August 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22912-5 (paperback)


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