All Murders Final!
All Murders Final! is the third and latest in the “Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery” series by Sherry Harris. It’s one of those books I think of as a “modern cozy”. “Cozies” are mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie, set amongst a small community and contrasted with thrillers or hardboiled detective stories. The detective is usually an amateur, and these days, there’s a strong second hook, some kind of hobby (such as quilting or gardening) or profession (caterer, veterinarian) that will attract readers.
In this case, Sarah Winston is great at yard sales. She knows how to recognize hidden gems, value used property, and make minor repairs. That comes in handy when she has to furnish her own apartment unexpectedly. Her husband was a military officer, but he got an enlisted woman pregnant, so he quickly retired and became the police chief of a small Massachusetts town. Sarah left him and started staging yard sales for friends as a starter business.
In the first book, Tagged for Death, we get all the back story of Sarah and her ex, as she finds a bloody shirt belonging to him, and his 19-year-old girlfriend is missing. She’s feeling betrayed but still knows he wouldn’t have committed murder, in spite of the signs, so she works to figure out who did it out of loyalty.
There’s an accurate portrait of the struggles of the life of a military spouse woven into the attempt to figure out what’s going on. I’m not sure the solution is deducible by an observant reader, but plenty of twists and turns make it a page-turner, even if some of the characters are two-dimensional plot devices.
The second book, The Longest Yard Sale, has Sarah setting up a town-wide sales event. Unfortunately, someone uses the distraction to steal a famous painting and dump a body in Sarah’s friend Carol’s art studio.
I’ve also noticed that these cozies tend to have romantic, almost wish-fulfillment aspects. Sarah’s one-and-only one-night stand turns out to be one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors and a local DA, so they keep being thrown together. She’s frequently (almost too often) debating whether to get back with her husband or spend more time with the gorgeous, rich lawyer, who keeps chasing her whenever he’s not taking models to public events.
In All Murders Final!, Sarah has figured out how to keep a garage sale business going in the winter months: set up an online swap board. Unfortunately, after she has a dispute with a customer, the customer — a leading light in the social community whose family had been in the town for centuries — is found dead. Sarah’s also got a virtual stalker, someone spying on her and sending the pictures to her.
I was drawn to the computer elements, of course, and they seemed realistic (particularly the bits about how hard it was to moderate a site well and how everyone wanted to complain about other members). The prose was serviceable, nothing special, there just to move the characters through the action. And there is action, particularly in the wrap-up, with a kidnapping and Sarah’s life threatened. The murders were almost irrelevant, since the reader is barely introduced to the victims, and the mafia element feels forced, as though the author suddenly decided to write a different kind of book.
There’s a good amount of detail of life in a small New England town, particularly the regional jargon. My favorite cast members are Angelo and Rosalie. They own the neighborhood roast beef and pizza joint, and they serve as substitute parents to Sarah, making sure she’s getting enough to eat and acting as sounding boards when she’s upset. Everyone could use such loyal and providing friends. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)