Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Complex mystery, great characters, and vintage toys
Cons: No cons to be found here
The Bottom Line:
Murder, vintage toys
Delightfully fun debut
Pick this one up now
This is a Well Played New Series Debut
I was a fan of the books that Barbara Early wrote under the pen name Beverly Allen, so when she announced her new series, I knew I had to check it out. Death of a Toy Soldier is the first in the Vintage Toy Shop Mysteries. Toys and nostalgia? Sign me up. Even better, this book is set at Christmas, a time of year I love. Naturally, that meant I had high hopes for the book when I sat down to read it, and I was not disappointed in the slightest.
Liz McCall has returned to East Aurora, New York, to help her father, Hank, run Well Played, his vintage toy store. He opened the store after being injured on the job as the town’s chief of police, and he’s sunk his entire pension into it. With weekly game nights and a varied inventory, the job is interesting, but Liz is hoping that the upcoming Christmas season will help the store start to turn a profit.
One day, a nervous man arrives with a box of toys that he might be interested in selling and asks for an appraisal. One item in particular is rather rare, and the stranger leaves the box behind while the research is done. However, a few nights later, Liz hears a noise in the shop and goes downstairs to find the stranger dead on the floor, stabbed by one of the lawn darts in the store’s inventory. Furthermore, the toys he brought in are missing. Who was he? Why was he killed in their store?
First books in new series have to strike the balance of introducing us to the characters and setting without slowing anything down, and this book does a good job of finding that balance. We meet the victim right away, and it’s not too much longer before he’s dead, leaving us with lots of questions that need to be addressed. The story takes us down some interesting paths before we reach the logical ending and all the plot threads are wrapped up.
I absolutely loved the characters here. They each have their own quirks that make them fun without losing that realistic quality. Liz and her immediate family (including her dad and a brother and sister-in-law) are all great. Yes, we have the start of a love triangle here, but here’s the thing – I like both of the guys. I know which way I am leaning, and as long as the triangle doesn’t hang on for too many books I’m okay with it. And I’m hoping that a few of the other characters we met here pop up again because they were lots of fun.
Then there’s the humor. Liz’s dad loves puns. I love puns. It was a perfect match! There are some other funny parts as the book progresses that added to the joy of the book.
And the vintage toy angle was as much fun as I expected it to be, too. While some of the toys I didn’t recognize, others brought a nostalgic smile to my face. Plus, any store that has weekly board game nights is okay by me. I’m ready to go for a visit and settle in for a long time. It might be dangerous to my wallet, but I don’t think I would care in the least.
Of course, since Liz and the gang at Well Played are fictional, I can’t really do that, but I am definitely looking forward to the sequel. Death of a Toy Soldier expertly combines a great theme with warm, real characters and a complex mystery.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.