Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: The Clockwork Teddy by John J. Lamb (Bear Collector's Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in a fun, mostly confusing story
Cons: Cut back on the penal codes already
The Bottom Line:
Going home again
Finds Brad with a fresh murder
You won't want to miss

Beary Enjoyable As Always

When Brad Lyon was injured in the line of duty, he was forced to retire from his job as a homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department.  He and his wife Ashleigh moved across the country to Virginia and really indulged their hobby or collecting and making artisan teddy bears.  Fortunately for us, Brad still stumbles on the occasional mystery related to teddy bears and uses his years as a cop to solve the crime.  The Clockwork Teddy is the fourth book in the series.  And each book is an absolute delight.

Brad and Ashleigh are combining business with pleasure.  Brad has had to return to San Francisco to testify in a case from his days on the force, but they've managed to schedule it to coincide with the annual teddy bear festival in Sonoma.  As the festival is opening, Brad witnesses someone dressed in a bear costume rob fellow teddy bear artisan Lauren Vandenbosch.

That night, Brad and Ashleigh are catching up with his old partner over dinner when a call comes in for a homicide in San Francisco.  Brad decides to tag along and stumbles on a robotic teddy bear at the scene.  Even more puzzling, he begins to suspect that the murder is connected to the robbery from Sonoma that morning.  Can he figure out what is happening?

This series walks a very fine line.  With the teddy bear elements, it is part cozy.  But since the main character (and author) are former homicide detectives, it has a strong police procedural element.  We spend more time at crime scenes, considering evidence, and worrying about how to make a conviction stick.  But we are spared the more gruesome details of the crime scenes.

Part of what makes these books work is Brad and Ashleigh.  I absolutely love them and would spend time with them in real life if I could.  Brad can be very sarcastic and ornery at times, but Ashleigh holds her own.  In this book, Brad comes face to face with what he left behind after leaving the force.  It added a new shade to his character I liked.  Ashleigh's a strong character who is quickly learning about police work as the series progresses.  There are a couple scenes here were she takes the lead in the interviewing and pulls it off well.  And they are very much in love.  Some of their banter makes me smile.

Since the rest of the books have been set on the East Coast, Brad and Ashleigh are the only returning characters.  We get to meet their daughter Heather, and I fell in love with her immediately.  We also get a full compliment of Brad's former co-workers.  I wish we could see more of them later.  The suspects were equally well developed, although I wouldn't call all of them likable.  I certainly loved hating them, however.

The first couple books in the series had slight pacing problems, but that has gone away here.  The story starts off strongly with background slipped into the action as needed.  Even the various interviews and time spent at the crime scene is interesting as new pieces of the puzzle keep popping up.  I did figure out one twist fairly early, but that didn't dampen my enjoyment much as there was still so much I needed to know.  And once the characters caught up with me, I couldn't put the book down.

The book is narrated by Brad, and the writing flows smoothly.  My only complaint was the constant inserting of penal code phrases into the dialog to be explained in a sentence afterward.  A little of that is cute and fun, but in this book it seemed to be more prevalent then in past volumes and I found it annoying.

I can't spend enough time with Brad and Ashleigh.  I hope that The Clockwork Teddy is just one in a long, long series of books.

Once you start, you'll definitely want to collect the rest of the Bear Collector's Mysteries in order.

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