ARC Review: “How to Book a Murder,” by Cynthia Kuhn

Another day, another late ARC. However, How to Book a Murder by Cynthia Kuhn was worth the wait, and I loved reading this Halloween-themed cozy in the heat of summer when I need to promise of fall spookies. So thank you, Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for another delightful read!

From the Publisher:

To help save her family’s floundering Colorado bookstore, Starlit Bookshop, newly minted Ph.D. Emma Starrs agrees to plan a mystery-themed dinner party for her wealthy, well-connected high school classmate Tabitha Baxter. It’s a delightful evening of cocktails and conjecture until Tabitha’s husband, Tip—hosting the affair in the guise of Edgar Allan Poe’s detective C. Auguste Dupin—winds up murdered.

In a heartbeat, Emma and her aunt Nora, a famous mystery writer, become suspects. Emma is sure the party’s over for Starlit events, until celebrated author Calliope Nightfall, whose gothic sensibilities are intrigued by the circumstances, implores the bookseller to create a Poe-themed launch event for her latest tome. Throwing a bash to die for while searching for additional clues is already enough to drive Emma stark raven mad, but another shocking crime soon reveals that Silvercrest has not yet reached the final chapter of the puzzling case.

Someone in this charming artistic community has murder on the mind, and if Emma cannot outwit the killer, she and her beloved aunt will land behind bars, to walk free nevermore.


What I Loved:

  • The Setting / Ambiance. As I mentioned, How to Book a Murder is set in the fall before Halloween in a beautiful Colorado town overlooking a river. The town is filled with craftsmen and little shops, there is a liberal arts college, and beautiful Victorian homes, and Kuhn describes it all in lush detail. Some of my favorite scenes are in the artsy town and at Emma’s bookstore, which sounds entirely like a dream come true. Book nooks, a patio facing the river… swoon.
  • The Bookish Themes. Similar the the setting, I loved all of the book’s literary references. In the mode of Agatha Christie, How to Book a Murder starts with a murder mystery dinner party that ends in a real murder. I wish my friends were cool enough to host murder mystery parties (hopefully ending with…no murder). THEN the book climaxes at the coolest Halloween party ever, set in a bookstore and inspired by a Poe character that ends in a reading of one of the liberal arts college’s professors. This book has the holy grail of bookish events.

What Didn’t Work as Well:

  • The “Mean Girls.I enjoyed Emma, Nora, and Lucy. They were all down to earth and fun, with a strong sense of wrong and right and a great business. However, the “Mean Girls” of Tabitha and her posse (none of whose names or husband’s names are memorable) were all caricature villains. They were rude and elitist, with hyper planned lives and no redeeming qualities. I am all for a villain, but these girls weren’t believable.
  • Lack of “Cozy.” At the risk of sounding wishy washy, How to Book a Murder lacked a certain something that make a cozy…. cozy. A potential love interest for Emma is hinted at, but never fleshed out; the murder was intriguing but out of left field; there was too much negativity; and there was weird gaps in the timeline that were underexplained. The ironic part of this is that my biggest complain about most cozies is the overexplaining. But here, I almost missed the minute details that permeate most cozies: the smell of coffee, the chiffon dresses and cashmere sweaters, the chill in the air, the feeling of holding someone’s hand. This felt lacking.

Conclusion:

Cynthia Kuhn’s How to Book a Murder had all the right elements of a great cozy: literary themes, an intriguing murder, a bookstore, a cute town, Halloween, and a cast of characters that could all be the murderer. However, there was a certain “je ne sais quoi” that was missing to push this into the realm of “cozy you can’t put down” versus “cozy you hope Book 2 will improve.” I rated this three waves because it was, of course, easy to read and fun to feel like autumn is coming on these hot beach days. Check How to Book a Murder for yourself by ordering here and let me know what you think!

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