Title: In the Winter Woods
Author: Isabelle Adler
Publisher: NineStar Press
Length: 220 Pages
Category: Cozy Mystery
At a Glance: In the Winter Woods embodies the very definition of a cozy mystery, and while not a romance, there is a budding relationship between Declan and Curtis that adds an element of sweetness to the story. There are a few red-herrings, as you’d expect, but when the murderer tips his hand, he tips it obviously enough for readers to have an “aha!” moment of our own.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Declan Kensington isn’t really in the mood for Christmas. His latest mystery book sales are tanking, his finances are in a dismal state, and his spirits are anything but festive. Perhaps spending the holidays alone at his family lakeside cabin in the small village of Maplewood, Vermont, will provide him much-needed peace and quiet. Then he might finally get to work on a new book and (hopefully) jumpstart his stalling writing career.
When he starts receiving anonymous letters threatening him to leave, Declan realizes his solitary writer’s retreat isn’t at all what he bargained for. And if the threats aren’t enough, a killer strikes, casting Declan in the role of the most likely suspect. Now it’s up to him and the handsome local Public Safety Commissioner Curtis Monroe to find out the truth before Declan spends Christmas (and the rest of his life) in jail. But as dead bodies pile up and dark secrets are revealed beneath Maplewood’s picture-perfect facade, Declan’s heart may yet be in more danger than his life…
Review: Don’t let the title or the cover of this book, nor the fact that it’s set in the Hallmark Christmas movie-style village of Maplewood, Vermont, lull you into believing you’ll find a sweet and homey holiday romance in its pages. The only thing you’ll find cozy in this book is the fire burning in the hearth, and the spirit of the mystery that plagues the town upon Declan Kensington’s return to his family’s vacation cabin for what he’s calling a writing retreat, though is more an instance of him having little choice but to leave New York City for the sake of his dwindling finances. Sales of the latest book in Declan’s once bestselling Murder Mystery series are nothing less than dismal, and as if that weren’t depressing enough, he’s been beset by a case of writer’s block. If he’s not blessed with some inspiration soon, his career as an author will dissipate as quickly as his bank balance.
What could possibly be more meta than an author crafting a murder mystery centering around a murder mystery author who unintentionally becomes embroiled in a murder mystery? And what could be less affirming than an author being told maybe he needs to branch out a bit in his writing, and try something new because what he’s doing now isn’t working? When Declan looks to be the prime suspect in the violent death of his hostile neighbor—and why wouldn’t he be, given the murder happened on the night he arrived in a cabin he’s not set foot in, in twenty years?—he is determined to see to it that Public Safety Commissioner Curtis Monroe conducts a thorough investigation rather than circumventing procedure to pin the murder on the easy target. But first, Declan needs to figure out who’s leaving him threatening notes, and why. This all leads to a little amateur sleuthing on Declan’s part, something it turns out he’s not as good at as the detective he writes about, which I appreciated for the irony—take that, Murder She Wrote—and leads him to wish to know one Curtis Monroe a lot better. In, shall we say, the unprofessional sense.
In the Winter Woods embodies the very definition of a cozy mystery, in the setting as well as in the budding romance between Declan and Curtis. I said in the opening that this isn’t a sweet holiday romance, but there is a sweetness to it despite the grisly crimes that bring them together in the days leading up to Christmas. Maplewood is on point as the small-town character—quaint, gossipy, carrying its own secrets, and typically quiet, but with an undercurrent of change that introduces the necessary tension-building for the altercations to arise. There are a few red-herrings, as you’d expect from a mystery, but when the murderer tips his hand, he tips it obviously enough for readers to have an “aha!” moment of our own.
If you’re looking for a little murder in your holidays, and the tentative start to something new, with the potential for something lasting, Isabelle Adler delivers just that in In the Winter Woods.
You can buy In the Winter Woods here:
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