Saturday, March 9, 2013

Book Review: O' Artful Death by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Sweeney St. George #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Unique main character; good story
Cons: Secondary characters introduce sub-plots that go no where, hard to keep characters straight
The Bottom Line:
Atmospheric book
With character induced flaws
Still well worth reading

Wonderful Debut Mystery

College professor Sweeney St. George is looking forward to a nice quiet Christmas break alone in her apartment. But when her friend Toby shows her a picture of a unique gravestone near his aunt and uncle, she can't resist investigating. Her specialty is gravestone art, so the stone has an academic fascination for her. Plus, it'll make a perfect chapter in her book on gravestones of New England.

The stone is located in an artist's colony in Vermont dating back to the late 1800's. Rumor is that the young woman immortalized by that stone was murdered by one of the artists, but no arrests were ever made.

Even before Sweeney arrives, the woman's great-niece is murdered. Ruth Kimball told Sweeney on the phone about the rumors. Is there a connection between the gravestone, the mysterious death of 115 years ago, and the murder today? If Sweeney wants the truth about this unique stone, she'll have to find out.

I was intrigued by the premise of this book when I first heard about it, but put off getting it. That was a mistake. This is a wonderfully written debut. The descriptions make the colony come to vivid life. The style is relaxed, inviting you to sit back and enjoy, yet it also has a melancholy feel to it.

The characters are both a strength and a weakness. There are really two sets of characters, those from the past and those in the present. The present characters are descended from the past characters. I had problems keeping all the characters and their relationships to those from the past straight, but with some work I was able to figure it all out eventually. The characters are well drawn and believable. Sweeney is interesting, and her interest in her work made me interested in something I wasn't interested in before. Burial art is an unique but logical profession for a heroine. Unfortunately, the book feels like the author loved her other characters and can't quite let them fit where they belong. This leads to some scenes that seem to introduce a sub-plot that ultimately goes nowhere.

The pace of the plot was wonderful. New information is sprinkled liberally throughout the story, yet we are kept in the dark until the end. There are plenty of clues and red herrings sprinkled throughout the book. And the solution, while unexpected, is satisfying.

I've fallen under the spell of this author and series. I highly recommend you pick up O' Artful Death today.

And for there, you'll want to read the rest of the Sweeney St. George Mysteries in order.

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