Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery, fun
Cons: Weak characters, poor homeschooling
The Bottom Line:
Explore house, find corpse
Story’s characters are weak
But the plot is fun
Body in the Coal Chute
Several years ago, I read the three books in the Stay at Home Dad Mysteries by Jeff Allen and really enjoyed them. I’d always intended to go back and read more books by Jeff under his real name, Jeff Shelby. I finally did that with The Murder Pit, the first in his self-published Moose River Mysteries. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as it could have been, but I still enjoyed it.
Daisy Savage is happy with her life. Recently remarried, she and her husband are settling into their old fixer upper with their blended family. Daisy fell in love with the house the minute they saw it, but it is turning out to be one repair job after another. Case in point, this particular cold winter day, Daisy and her husband, Jake, are in their basement’s crawl space trying to thaw frozen pipes before the they burst.
While crawling around, Daisy notices a space they didn’t previously know about – a coal chute. It’s not empty, however – it has a dead body in it. Worse yet, Daisy recognizes the man as someone she met once. The small-town rumor mill kicks in and Daisy find herself being judged by others as a suspect. Who killed the victim? And why was he dumped in their basement?
The mystery gets off to a great start, and I liked the added piece of the puzzle it added with the question of why the victim was dumped in the basement. There are a couple of good twists along the way. Although I did begin to figure a few things out early, I was still entertained as I kept reading to see if I was right.
My issue was more with the characters. This was designed to be a humorous mystery, so I’m okay with some of them being a bit caricature than full on character. Even so, they seemed weaker than they could have been. I think part of it was because Daisy’s kids seem young for their stated ages, especially her son, Will. All of them act like they are about six or seven at times, when the two older are twice that age. On the other hand, I did enjoy Daisy and Jake, so they helped keep me grounded in the book.
Daisy homeschools three of her kids. As a former homeschool kid myself, I was excited to see what I hoped would be a positive portrayal. Unfortunately, this wasn’t it. The kids spend no time actually doing school work. Instead, they seem to spend quite a bit of time playing. Just a few references to them actually working on assignments would have worked for me. I don’t expect things to be completely realistic; Daisy needs to be able to spend time solving the murder, after all. But most cozies at least pretend the main character is running their business occasionally.
The timeline was…creative. The book starts on a weekend, but then Daisy and her family enter an endless week where we get at least seven days with no weekend. As you know, timeline issues bother me, so I had to point this out.
There was some humor, so, I had a lot of fun reading this book.
And that’s the thing, it’s not that the book is bad. I was just expecting it to be better. I’m not sorry I read the book, but the issues keep me from being able to fully recommend it.
I enjoyed this one enough that I’ll definitely be back for more of Jeff Shelby’s books. Hopefully, The Murder Pit is a rare misstep for him.