Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Book Review: The Plot is Murder by V. M. Burns (Mystery Bookshop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable characters, creative premise
Cons: Two stories is too much story for this one book
The Bottom Line:
Following her dreams
Two stories; lots going on
I did not connect

Interesting Idea, but Doesn’t Quite Work

I’ve been hearing praise for the Mystery Bookshop Mysteries since the first one came out.  I’ve even had that book, The Plot is Murder, for a while now.  I just hadn’t found the time to read it until now.  Sadly, I didn’t love it as much as I expected to.

Samantha Washington is turning her life upside down to open a mystery bookstore in North Harbor, Lake Michigan.  It was a dream she shared with her late husband, and he made her promise before he died that she would take his life insurance money and open the store.  However, just weeks before she plans to open the store, she finds the dead body of Clayton Parker behind the building.  Clayton was the realtor who sold Samantha the building, and he caused plenty of problems during escrow.  Samantha had no use for him, but the police think she might have killed him.

Meanwhile, Samantha is pursuing another dream, writing a cozy mystery herself.  She’s set it in the 1938 English countryside, and, when life stresses her out, she escapes to the world she is creating to find out how Penelope and the others will solve the murder of American Charles Parker.  Will writing about Penelope help Samantha solve a real-life mystery?  Or will the mystery in real life impact the book she is writing?

This is the first series I remember reading where there is a mystery inside a mystery to be solved, and I applaud author V. M. Burns for creating such a challenge for herself.  She has to juggle two sets of characters and research two stories for each book.

My biggest concern going into the book was that the dueling plots would leave this book undeveloped overall.  Sadly, that was the case.  The historical mystery was better since we would generally drop in for a scene with some importance, so a quick summary of anything we missed would work.  Even so, the ending was a bit abrupt and there was some character growth that came out of left field.

It was the real-life mystery that Samantha is dealing with that got short changed the most.  We got lots of summaries, and it resulted in her telling us about things that had happened.  Instead of allowing me to get lost in her world, I felt like I was on the outside.

Which is a shame because I wanted to really get lost in both of these stories.  All of the characters are charming.  I especially enjoyed Samantha’s grandmother and her friends who are a hoot.  (And I also loved the shout out to Mrs. Pollifax.)  I am definitely curious to see what happens next to these characters.

And the mystery Samantha has to solve is well done.  The ending is a bit abrupt, but it is logical and it worked for me.

I was afraid with all the characters in the book that I might get some of them mixed up, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.  Well, it did trip me up that the victims in both parts of the story had similar first names and the same last name, but that was the only issue I had and once I realized that, it wasn’t an issue for me any more.

I also had no trouble jumping between the two parts of the book.  Samantha narrates in first person, but the story she is writing is told third person.  Those sections were also slightly in bold and clearly marked, at least in the physical book I read.

There are many fans of this series, and after reading The Plot is Murder, I can understand why.  But the two storylines took too much away from each other for me, and the result was decidedly mixed.


  1. I had mixed feelings about this series as well. But, I liked the characters so I continued on. The story within a story is unique, but I didn't really care for it. I enjoyed the later books in the series, starting with book 4, better than the earlier ones.

  2. I'm a big fan of any mention of Mrs. Pollifax but I've been on the fence about this series because I wasn't totally sold on the mix of the characters and the book she's writing. I just finished a book where I didn't connect to the characters so I think I'll take a pass on this one.