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by Kate Carlisle
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2021
294 pages
ISBN: 0593201337

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Shannon Hammer is in the middle of a pet project: building tiny houses for local veterans with PTSD and/or other disabilities; a new member of her crew is killed and Shannon thought this woman had the potential to be a very good friend. She can't let the murderer go unpunished.

Life is pretty wonderful right now for Shannon Hammer. Her relatively new relationship with best-selling author MacKintyre (Mac) Sullivan is about as close to perfect as any woman could want. He supports her in her contracting endeavors and teaches writing workshops at his Victorian mansion, the one Shannon and her crew restored. Her current project is a community of tiny houses, ultimately about fifty of them, built to house veterans with PTSD and other disabilities. The community will offer tons of social services, medical options, and the chance for veterans to learn building trades. The original idea came from Mac, a retired Navy Seal. The details of the assembly-line construction are fascinating and sound very do-able. At this point, Shannon and her crew are working on the third set of five houses, while another crew is working on the foundations of the fourth set.

In her copious free time, Shannon is teaching a class on construction skills as part of the occupational program in the community. This class is geared mostly for women, although all kinds of classes are taught. Shannon's friend Julie Barton introduces her to Linda Rutledge, who wants enroll. After some fairly brief discussion, Linda shares that she is a mosaic artist and would like to also do some work on the little houses. Shannon hires her to do some backsplashes; the two women both feel that instant bond which so rarely occurs once women gets past their early twenties. Later, Mac brings around the new writers in his workshop; most seem like reasonable/normal people, although one or two set Shannon's hackles to bristling. Unlike the usual groups who come for Mac's knowledge and expertise as a writer, all these folks are already published and have different expectations of what this retreat will involve.

Shannon's life has to have at least one or two bumps in the road. First of all, the writers in this group are not as well-behaved as previous groups were. They persist in going into the Lighthouse, which is clearly marked as off-limits, both physically and verbally. Their ringleader is the very personable yet still somewhat creepy best-seller. He persists in pushing the envelope in just about every way possible.

Then there is (yet another) murder. Linda is killed with one of her own mallets while out collecting shells on the beach to be used in her backsplash mosaics. Who could possibly want to kill her? This is not the first murder Shannon has had to deal with. At least this time around the local police chief, Eric Jensen, is reasonably OK with Shannon helping investigate. Shannon's motivation to solve the crime gets a big bump when one of her crew, a vet with PTSD, is framed for the murder. And, as she's been doing since high school, Whitney Reid Gallagher drops in and out to harass everyone in sight.

This is the ninth Fixer-Upper mystery. Carlisle is also the author of over fifteen other mysteries in her Bibliophile series. So this is certainly not her first rodeo. Her characters are mostly a delight, and the ones who aren't are meant to be that way. The setting is not integral to the mystery, and still it is lovingly described. This is definitely a cozy mystery; no edge-of-your-seat drama, no guts and gore. MALLETS is a comfy read for a cold winter's day blazing fire and hot cocoa optional.

P.J Coldren: I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, December 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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