The first book in the Victoria Square Mystery series, published February 1, 2011.
The last thing Katie Bonner wanted was to become the manager of Artisans Alley. But when her business partner, Ezra Hilton, is found lying at the bottom of a staircase, bludgeoned to death, she has no other choice. A collection of booths for artisans and craft sellers in a renovated apple warehouse, Artisans Alley is the main attraction in the quaint Victoria Square shopping area. Business under Ezra has been faltering - enough to provoke someone to murder?
Katie has had more than her share of death – her late husband (and Ezra’s former partner), Chad, died in a car accident six months ago. But as she digs deeper into Ezra’s murder, her husband death starts to look suspicious. While the cops are proceeding by the book, Katie is investigating by the booths – for the answer to the killer’s identity lies in the hidden secrets of Artisans Alley itself.
Katie was estranged from her husband, when he was killed in a car crash a few months ago. She is still mourning his death, because they were almost ready to get back together. Katie was furious with him when, without asking her, he took all their joint savings and “invested” them in Artisans Alley, for a 10% ownership. The place certainly could use it, and Chad loved it there. He was a teacher, but painting was his second love. He had a booth where his paintings were on sale.
But they had been saving to buy an old mansion nearby, to turn into a bed and breakfast. That was Katie’s big dream, a dream that will probably never come true now. With the nearly bankrupt Artisans Alley, there is no chance to get that money back. She has had to work overtime a lot to pay of his funeral bills alone. And even though Katie likes her job, putting up with her horrible boss is not a fun thing.
While driving to her job each day, Katie passes through Victorian Square. Seeing all the police cars outside Artisans Alley made her curious, so she stopped to inquire. The old proprietor Ezra Hilton has been murdered that night, and as Katie is his business partner, she will have to make arrangements.
To her big surprise, Katie has inherited 50% of Artisans Alley, together with Ezra’s cousin, who has inherited the other 50% and the rest of Ezra’s estate. But she has been named executor! She doesn’t have time for all this, and although she has a degree in business, no idea how to handle day to day operations and all the artists involved. She has already been approached by someone who wants to rent some space in the building to sell her crafts. Something Ezra was against, as craft is not art. As finances are in such bad shape, every dollar earned is welcome to Katie, no matter who is paying to rent space.
Ezra’s nephew however, does not want the place to stay open. He wants to sell to a big hotel chain who wants to open a new hotel. He doesn’t care that that will be the end of all the Victorian Square shops also, he wants money! But as Kate now has a 55% ownership, what he wants has no influence. And sicking the firehazard inspector on her, also has no results. The few minor problems are easily rectified.
Katie doesn’t believe the police are doing much to find the real killer, especially not when a second body is found, and the police are seriously looking her way! She has no alibi as she lives alone, she has quit her job to become the manager here, and she stands to inherit. And so Katie starts asking questions, trying to get to know the artists and other merchants of Victorian Square better. She can’t believe she has never been in one of the lovely shops before. Katie is especially happy with the pizza place next door, as she hates cooking for herself. That the owner is her age and very good looking doesn’t hurt either.
From the first page I was immersed in this book. Not so surprising, as the murder victim was found in the first sentence. Another different trope about this book, the heroine does not have a cute little shop or something, she has a “normal” fulltime office job. There is no other option then for her to take over the reigns at Artisans Alley, and Katie has to learn how to run it. It is a shabby and dusty old place, and totally not inviting customers to buy anything.
But as the place is in dire financial straits, there also is not much money to invest in what the place really needs.
The best part though: I had no clue about the murderer, or the motive behind any of it. Only in the end I got a vague feeling, and by then, the murderer tried to kill Katie, telling all.
I really liked Katie and the secondary characters, the feeling of the small town. Lorraine Bartlett has a very engaging writing style, which I liked a lot. I am looking forward to diving in the next book in the series, straight away. If you like cozy mysteries, I do recommend this series to you. And there are even some recipes in the back of the book. Even though Katie doesn’t like to cook, she does like to bake.