Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Book Review: Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson (Aurora Anderson #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: All cons painted over
The Bottom Line:
Christmas discovr’y
Opens mystery from past
In holiday book

Uncovering the Past at Christmas

While I love Christmas, living in Southern California, I experience it a little differently than how it is usually pictured.  For example, I don’t dream of a white Christmas – to me rain feels like Christmas.  Some of those differences are captured in Ghosts of Painting Past, the fifth Aurora Anderson Mystery.  It only makes sense since Rory lives in Vista Beach, a community in the greater Los Angeles area of California.

The house across the street from Rory is being torn down, so she is trying to drown out the sound of construction vehicles with Christmas carols when the sound suddenly stops.  The crew has found bones buried under a building in the backyard.  It isn’t long before the police have been able to identify the bones, but their identity puts Rory’s father in the role of suspect.  Rory tries to help out with a variety of holiday events planned in the community, including finishing up her own ornaments to sell at the craft fair despite what is happening in town, but when a new body turns up, the stakes are raised.  Can she figure out what happened in the past and how that is impacting the present?

I must admit, every time I pick up a book where a mystery from the past is uncovered, I worry a bit that I won’t find the book that compelling.  After all, if the crime is that old, will anyone in the present care?  And yet, time after time, I find myself enjoying these types of stories.  This book is no exception.  It quickly becomes apparent to us why this decades old crime is still relevant today, and we start rooting for Rory to figure out what really happened back then and how it is playing out in the present.  It certainly helps that Rory has a couple of very personal reasons to want to see this resolved.  There are plenty of clues and red herrings to keep us guessing and keep the story moving forward, but the ending makes perfect sense.

Despite the tole-painting hook of this series, the tone has always been a bit more on the serious side of the cozy spectrum.  That’s true again here, but given the mystery that is unfolding, that is completely appropriate.

And, we do have plenty of Christmas events to help lighten the mood a little.  I’ve already mentioned a craft fair, but there’s caroling and a “snowman” building contest.  Well, a sandman building contest, really, taking place right on the beach.  While I can’t sculpt anything from sand (or snow), reading these scenes made me want to participate.  As I hinted earlier, I loved seeing someone celebrating Christmas in Southern California.  I still got the Christmas vibe, and I didn’t need snow to do it.

The characters in this series continue to grow on me.  We have a limited number of main characters, but it was fabulous to see them all again and see how their relationships grow in this book.  The new characters introduced for this book are all strong characters as well, which helps make the stakes of the mystery so real.

With Christmas fast approaching, now is the perfect time to pick up Ghosts of Painting Past.  It would be fun to read during December, but it will get you in the Christmas mood any time of year.

Watch Rory paint up some clues in the rest of the Aurora Anderson Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


  1. Thanks for having Ghosts of Painting Past on your blog and for your review!

  2. Thanks for the review. I'm so glad you liked it.