ARC Review: “Premeditated Mortar,” by Kate Carlisle

Hi all, and sorry I have been absent! My new job is kicking my butt (in a good way, but still a lot of work), and my reading has fallen to the wayside. It is only week one, so hopefully I will get over the growing pains soon.

I could not neglect my ARCs, however, especially when this ARC is from one of my favorite cozy mystery writers. Kate Carlisle writes two of my favorite cozy series, the Bibliophile Mystery series and this one, the Fixer-Upper Mystery series. Premeditated Mortar is book eight in this awesome series, so I will be careful not to spoil anything that can be protected. Thank you, Netgalley and Berkley Books!

From the Publisher:

Contractor Shannon Hammer gets tangled up in murder at a spooky old asylum in the latest Fixer-Upper Mystery from New York Times bestselling author Kate Carlisle. . . .

Shannon Hammer is about to embark on one of the biggest projects of her career. Her best friend Jane Hennessey has purchased one wing of the Gables, formerly the old state insane asylum, located on a bucolic hillside two miles northeast of Lighthouse Cove. Jane plans to turn her section into a small luxury hotel complete with twenty ocean-view rooms, a spa, and a restaurant.

Shannon is raring to get started on the enormous project and is shocked when a group of unruly protesters shows up at the groundbreaking ceremony and wreaks havoc. She’s even more freaked-out when someone pushes her into a pit of bricks in a closed-off room of the asylum. Despite her close call, Shannon wants nothing more than to get back to work . . . until she finds a body not far from where she was pushed. Now Shannon is determined to get to the bottom of the goings-on at the Gables even if it kills her. . . . 

What I Loved:

  • The Setting at the Asylum. Kate Carlisle writes a great scene, and Premeditated Mortar was no exception. I loved the slightly spooky setting of the insane asylum, but also how gorgeous it was. The turrets and courtyard style lend itself to the new project of a retreat and beautiful hotel, and you can actually picture the whole construction project. In my community, we also had a large asylum that was shut down during major mental health reforms, and I recognized a lot of the features they described (the long corridors facing the sun, underground tunnels that connected all of the buildings together). It makes this even more real for me, because my community never did anything with our old asylum building and it is now a n unwanted relic of a shameful past. Premeditated Mortar makes the project look believable and doable.
  • Chloe Hammer. I love Shannon’s sister Chloe, TV show extraordinaire and partner to the police chief. Chloe is brash and confident, and she is unapologetically feminine while also being a great builder. She is also a loyal sister to Shannon and I am so excited she is going to be playing a larger role in the coming books, because frankly, she is becoming more interesting than Shannon.
  • The Depiction of Mental Illness. I think that Carlisle did a fantastic job of showing various forms of mental illness (depression, mental intellectual disabilities, etc.) and how treatments have changed over time. The original doctor is a classic Nurse Ratchet, and some of her patients were scarred for life. The evolution of modern medicine is also on full display, with characters that were previously institutionalized able to live normal lives due to new medications. I like that this detailed research and characterizations elevated Premeditated Mortar from a regular cozy to something with a little more nuance.

What Didn’t Work For Me:

  • Shannon and Mac. Now, this is unpopular, and honestly this is the first book I have felt this way. But Mac and Shannon are sickeningly cute. The “will they won’t they” was annoying, and when they got together, I was as excited as everyone. However over time, it has become too much. Every cutesy dinner they cook together, every time Shannon longingly looks into Mac’s eyes and thinks he is the hottest thing ever, every time she “has to forgive” a girl for staring at Mac longingly because he is *that good looking,* I cringe. And it isn’t Mac! He is normal and loving but at an appropriate level, but Shannon is insufferable. I just wish their cloying sweetness is toned down in future books, because Shannon is a less strong character for it.
  • The Mystery. While I loved all of the characters surrounding the mystery, particularly Rachel and Michael, I definitely felt that the killer was a little obvious and the handling of the “big reveal” was anticlimactic. I checked, and the murder doesn’t even occur until 80 percent into the book… I’m sorry, what?! How is that even a genre murder mystery anymore? Since there is a couple of mysteries in one, I will admit that I loved the historical context of the asylum, but the murder mystery itself was slapdash and felt more like a plot device than the plot itself. The second murder was handled even more cavalierly, and the killer was discovered almost as soon as the body was.


Despite loving the beautiful architecture and aura of the asylum and the way mental illness is properly portrayed, Premeditated Mortar fell a little flat for me in the context of the broader series. However, I do highly recommend the series still! This one is three waves, but don’t let that discourage you from checking out the series as a whole – Shannon is a kickass contractor who renovates old Victorian homes on the northern California coast, Mac is a murder mystery writer and ex-SEAL, and Shannon’s dad makes amazing Californian wine. If you want to check out book one, A High-End Finish, pick it up here (and it is in paperback, woohoo!) To pre-order Premeditated Mortar, order here for a December 1 release! And with this unseasonably warm weather, you may even get to take this to a fall beach trip.

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