Pub. Date: June 26, 2018
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Minotaur!)
Summary: Katherine Hamilton’s goal in high school was to escape from her dead-end hometown of Asheford, Maryland. Fifteen years later she’s got a degree in hospitality management and a great job supervising every aspect of the day-to-day operations of a high-end boutique hotel on the Baltimore waterfront. Then her high school best friend asks her to come talk with the town leaders of Asheford, but she won’t say why. Kate can’t cut her last link to her past, so she agrees to make the short trip across the state to Asheford.
Once Kate arrives, the town council members reveal that their town is on the verge of going bankrupt, and they’ve decided that Kate’s skills and knowledge make her the perfect person to cure all their ills. The town has used its last available funds to buy the huge Victorian mansion just outside of town, hoping to use it to attract some of the tourists who travel to visit the nearby Civil War battle sites. Kate has less-than-fond memories of the mansion, for personal reasons, but to make matters worse, the only person who has presented a possible alternate plan is Cordelia Walker–Kate’s high school nemesis, who had a hand in driving Kate away from Asheford so many years.
But a few days later Kate receives a call from the police–Cordelia has been found dead on the mansion property, and Kate is all-but certain that her name is high on the suspect list. She finds herself juggling the murder investigation and her growing fascination with the magnificent old house that turns out to be full of long-hidden mysteries itself. Kate knows she must clear her name and save her town–before she ends up behind bars.
Genre: Cozy Mystery
When I was contacted about some upcoming cozies, my eyes completely lit up. Though I haven’t reviewed any on the blog lately, cozy mysteries are near and dear to my heart and one in particular caught my eye. Sheila Connolly, author of several series that have forever been on my To Read list (like her Orchard series!), has once more decided to make waves in the genre with Murder at the Mansion. I was more than a little intrigued and settled in one weekend for what I expected to be a fun, murder-y ride.
Fifteen years ago Katie – now Kate, thank you very much – left her go-nowhere hometown after graduating and never looked back. Now working in the heart of Baltimore, her days are filled with running high end hotels and making sure the guests’ every needs are fulfilled. Out of the blue she receives a call from her best friend, asking her out to lunch, there’s something they need to discuss, but Lisbeth doesn’t mention specifics.
As it turns out, Asheboro is rapidly dying. Their town was quiet back in high school, now it’s more like a ghost town. People are leaving for larger cities like Baltimore, going where the jobs are. Lisbeth asks Kate for her help in turning things around, starting with the old Barton mansion, which the town nearly went bankrupt purchasing. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, Kate receives word her hotel has been bought by a foreign corporation…and she’s now out of a job. Could bringing Asheboro back to life be just the thing she needs?
But returning to her hometown means coming face-to-face with her past – literally. Cordelia was the most popular girl in school and made it her life’s mission to make Kate’s miserable. Cordy still sees herself as Queen Bee and has her own plans for the Barton place. Until she’s discovered dead on the front steps.
Oh dear. Murder at the Mansion would have been a really entertaining read…if Kate wasn’t in it. She was just plain awful, she thinks she’s better than everyone else because she left her town and has (had, rather) a high-paying job. I never highlight quotes from ARCs, but I couldn’t help myself here. At one point, when having lunch with her best friend, Kate thinks “I almost smiled: her crises and mine were so very different. She worried about misplaced baseball gloves, while at the hotel I had to track down international shipments of high-priority documents and make sure they reached the right people.” Ugh. Lisbeth is supposed to be her best friend – though they came off as mere acquaintances – and more than once Kate mused on how Lisbeth had stayed home to raise children, while big, powerful Kate earned multiple degrees and didn’t need a man (“Was I too smart for the men I met? Too successful?“).
Kate also seems like a stranger in town, a place where she grew up. At one point she asks “Does it snow much? Big storms?” Now, after I graduated, I moved from my own hometown. Yet I lived there long enough to know how the winters are. Kate’s comment also struck me as odd because she lives within driving distance of the town.
What really sealed the deal for me with Kate, however, was how she treated the town librarian. Kate graduated 15 years ago. I graduated 12 years ago. Kate is only three years older than me, making her 33. Audrey was a grade of two above her in school, yet at one point, Kate thinks of her as “an aging woman with a serious crush“. An aging woman? This entire crush plotline suffered from a serious case of telling – as the reader, I certainly didn’t see any signs of Audrey’s feelings for the mansion’s caretaker, a Civil War historian. “Audrey had fixated on Josh as her last best hope for love, or at least for escape from Asheboro, perhaps even knowing how unlikely it was that he was attracted to her.” “She really has nowhere else to be. Sad, isn’t it?” I came to despise Kate.
As for the mystery itself, the Big Reveal was a bit of a letdown unfortunately, though I enjoyed it far more than I did Kate’s character. Her plans for saving the town involve literally turning the place into a Victorian village, meaning all the modern shops need to go. Instead, they’ll move in a butcher, a saddle-maker, a hat shop. And she expects the shop owners to cough up the money.
Sadly, I’m in the minority here, but I wasn’t a fan of this one. Murder at the Mansion could have been a really fun, entertaining read…the only problem? The horrible main character. Unfortunately, the grand estate and Civil War history couldn’t save this one.