Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Review: Live Free or Die by Jessie Crockett

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and main characters
Cons: Weak ending and weak supporting characters
The Bottom Line:
Christmas mystery
Combines arson and murder
For Jessie’s debut

Arson and Murder at Christmas

When I found the Wicked Cozy Authors blog a few years back, I dove into all of their current series, and I’ve done a good job of keeping up with their new books as they come out.  However, there were a couple of standalone books I haven’t gone back and read.  That’s partially changed now that I’ve read Live Free or Die, the debut novel from Jessie Crockett

The small village of Winslow Falls, New Hampshire has been plagued by a string of fires in recent weeks.  But now, in mid-December, things have taken a deadly turn when the body of Beulah Price in found in the latest fire.  The building to burn is the village’s local museum, and it had been Beulah’s pet project.

The sight is so shocking that is sends the volunteer fire chief to the hospital with a heart attack and Gwen Fifield has to step in to take over the job.  That includes interacting with Hugh Larsen, the state’s arson investigator assigned to the case.  The locals are quick to point their finger at the local immigrant family, especially the sons, but Gwen is certain they are innocent.  As she begins poking around, she starts to uncover secrets in the town she grew up in.  Will one of them lead her to the truth?

While this was Jessie’s first novel, it wasn’t the first of her books I’ve read.  I knew to expect a good mystery, and that’s exactly what I got.  The pace was steady, with enough events to keep me interested until we reached the climax.  I really did not see where things were going until Gwen figured it out.  While the book did wrap things up, it wasn’t in the neat bow I was expecting.  It’s probably a more realistic ending, and it was satisfying.  And there is one scene that sets up a complication in a sub-plot but we never see the resolution to that.

My bigger problem was with the characters.  While we got to know Gwen, Hugh, and some of the others pretty well, many of the villagers blended together.  This was true of the suspects as well.  Because I liked Gwen, I was hooked on the book, and this weakness didn’t bother me too much, but it was an issue.

I was also annoyed by the anti-immigrant stereotype of most of the villagers.  I find it hard to believe that only Gwen and Hugh would be welcoming to a family of immigrants.

Now if these weaknesses make is sound like I didn’t enjoy the book, let me reassure you.  I did.  It’s a case of the weaknesses being easy to spot but never truly distracting me from what is a good debut mystery.

I certainly loved the setting.  I’m not a cold weather person, and I could feel the cold winter air and the snow creeping around me as I read.  Gwen’s day job is being a post mistress in town, so we get to see Christmas from the point of view of someone dealing with all the mail that means, too.

Reading this book after having read Jessie’s other books was interesting, and I can definitely see how she has grown as an author.  If you’ve enjoyed this book, I certainly encourage you to read her later books.  And if you are already a fan, consider reading Live Free or Die and seeing how her career started.  Despite the weaknesses I mentioned, this is a fun read her fans will enjoy.

Since this book was originally published in 2010, I am including it in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.


  1. Regional towns don't often see immigrants and tend to be conservative, but I know of quite a lot of small towns here in Oz that have refugee families arrive and settle in and then, when the government tries to make them leave the country for one reason or another, they fight it.

    There's one town I heard of recently which was dying because nearly all the young people were leaving. They invited a bunch of African refugees to settle and suddenly the place was thriving. There's a school again! And many of these new settlers were farmers back home. One of them was crying for joy because it looked so much like where he came from.

  2. The setting sounds like the highlight of the book. Seems like the author may have oversimplified attitudes towards immigrants -- although I know there is unfortunately a lot of prejudice in our fair state.

  3. Sounds like parts of this one would annoy me too.


Thanks for stopping by. In order to combat spam, I moderate most comments. I'll get to your comment as soon as I can.