Review: To Helvetica and Back

To Helvetica and Back
by Paige Shelton (2016)

to helveticaThere are twenty-six chapters in Paige Shelton’s To Helvetica and Back. The first twenty-four are pretty darn good; the final two are a crime against the reader and a crime against the genre.

Those first twenty-four have all the makings. Clare is a smart, independent twenty-something woman who runs her grandfather’s shop. She repairs typewriters, restores old books, operates a Gutenberg-style printing press built by her grandfather, and prints custom stationery. She is a protector and restorer of the printed word, the kind of protagonist bibliophiles can’t help liking. Add a teenaged niece who helps in the shop, a snooty cat named Baskerville, a best friend and ex-fiancé who are both cops, and a handsome geologist who makes the best lasagna, and you can cancel your plans for the weekend, because you’ve got some comfy pages to get lost in.

A guy shows up, demands that Clare sell him another customer’s typewriter (an Underwood No. 5, of course), gets angry when she refuses, and sets off a nice string of events including danger to her family, a possibly thwarted new romance, a murder right outside her door, tension with her best friend, and the literal unearthing of long-held secrets. It’s all quite competently put together until the author breaks one of the unforgivable rules of the genre. So egregious is the writer’s transgression that it makes most of the good stuff irrelevant, and erases much of the enjoyment I got from most of the book. Shelton commits a lesser offense in the story’s climax, but I almost didn’t even notice it because her first breaking of the rules is so blatant.

I’ll allow the good stuff in this novel to serve as the background for the next in the series, but it does not make up for a horrible decision in this story.

1 star of 5.  I disliked its ending.

Review: To Brew or Not to Brew

To Brew or Not to Brew
by Joyce Tremel (2015)

2 brewI was in the mood for a mystery series I hadn’t tried yet, so when I saw To Brew or Not to Brew on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, I was instantly intrigued. It’s the first book by a new writer, in an anticipated new series. Getting in on the ground floor is always appealing. If it turns out to be great, I can say I was there at the very beginning.

Greatness may not be forthcoming, but this first story of Maxine “Max” O’Hara, a Pittsburgh native returning home to open a brewpub after years of studying the craft in Germany, has some potential. Max is likable and smart, passionate about brewing and (a requirement in murder mysteries of this sort) stubbornly independent. She makes friends easily with her neighboring entrepreneurs, providing (also a requirement) a colorful assortment of supporting characters. Her family ties are strong, and her family is large, and of course there is the best friend of an older brother, on whom Max has had a lifelong crush but who sees her only as a kid-sister figure. Uh huh.

In addition to the hassle of settling a menu, hiring and training a staff, and getting her building ready for final inspection, she has to deal with someone who doesn’t want her to open, as evidenced by the murder of one of her employees. Max’s father is a detective with the police department, but when the death is officially ruled an accident, it’s up to Max to figure out who the culprit is.

It’s mostly a by-the-numbers mystery with the usual parade of secondary characters. I don’t find the family members especially endearing, and Max’s business-owner friends are still flat, with no genuinely attractive qualities. Remember when you read A is for Alibi and you were first introduced to Kinsey’s landlord Henry, and how much you liked him? Or how you wish you knew someone like Rosie, the owner of the local tavern? There’s nobody like that here, although Max’s friends are certainly likable enough. The love interest situation isn’t bad, but the character isn’t developed well enough to say anything meaningful about him.

Still, it’s good enough, mostly on the strength of Max’s efficiency as a manager and her good radar for good people. She’s admirable, which (after likability) is one of the most important qualities in mystery series central characters, and she’s easy to root for. Count me in for a few more.