Denise Swanson: Little Shop of Homicide

Denise Swanson is a “name” in the cozy universe, having written fourteen books in her popular Scumble River series, and the time has come for her to branch out.  Sensibly, she’s created an entirely different character from her down to earth Skye Denison, school psychologist in Scumble River, Illinois, but she’s stuck to the small town template where she obviously feels comfortable and at home.

Her new series character, Devereaux Sinclair (yes, she shares Denise’s initials) owns a small shop in Shadow Bend, Missouri, her home town.  She had a fancy city job which drove her nuts and has come back to take over the town soda fountain, to which she’s added a gift basket side business.  I think Ms. Swanson must have the heart of a born retailer, because her shop sounds like the perfect retail combination for almost any town.

As a sidebar, she also lives with her granny, who she keeps “an eye” on.  Actually, the sensible Devereux isn’t all that different from Skye, but if I were to guess I’d say she’s a bit younger than Skye, a little less sure of herself, with a few more insecurities and anxieties.  I can sense Swanson the author is enjoying creating this new character, and as a reader, it’s fun to learn about her.

Fourteen books have left their mark as Swanson is a total pro, kicking off the action right away. Dev is assembling baskets in the back of her shop when a rude FBI agent bursts in to tell her someone has been murdered using the contents of one of her baskets, and the someone was the fiancée of  Dev’s long ago first boyfriend.  Dev is, of course, the main suspect. As Dev points out, there’s no “delete” button in the small town data processing memory, and Dev’s love for the dead woman’s fiancée has not been forgotten by anyone in town.

Also not forgotten or forgiven by the town upper crust is the fact that Dev’s father is in prison and that Dev was subsequently taken in and raised by her grandmother.  Luckily there are many who don’t care, Dev’s shop is busy, and she has the support of two long time best friends, Poppy and Boone.  She also has a new man to contend with, as Dev’s granny has found that her neighbor has a grandson who is a US Marshall, cooling his heels in town as he waits for an injury to heal.

The Marshall, Jake, is quickly on Dev’s side, defending her against rude FBI agents as well as town gossips at the bingo hall.  Jake and Dev certainly have an undeniable attraction for one another, one which Dev keeps attempting to put on the back burner, with little to no success.

The mystery plot is suitably tricky and the resolution is a juicy one, with just the right number of secrets tumbling out toward the end of the book. Swanson has a gift for portraying small town life, making it interesting, and finding both the ridiculous and the satisfying parts of living in one.  There are several hanging threads I can see Swanson will probably return to in future books, and I wish Dev a long and happy shelf life.