Book Review: California Schemin’

~ By Toni Linenberger

I admit it:  I originally bought Kate George’s books because I knew her.  Despite my reasons, I should be commended for my efforts.  Sadly, Ms. George’s books (Moonlighting in Vermont and California Schemin’)  are not readily available at my local Borders, Barnes and Noble, or even stocked on an indie’s shelves.  Good thing I have a couple indies who special order on speed email for just such purchases.  An indie that special orders is a rare treasure indeed.

Feeling my required friend support activities completed, I set both Bree MacGowan books in my TBR pile.  Confession time, I could probably be considered a hoarder when it comes to books.  My TBR piles have TBR piles!  The upside is that options are plentiful when it is time to start a new book.  The downside is that good books often get lost in the shuffle.  Such was the case with Ms. George.  Bree languished on the shelf for longer than I’d like to admit.  I’m only hopeful that she enjoyed her adventures in the TBR pile of her TBR pile.

Having recently read the latest Stephanie Plum I was in the mood for something along the same lines.  Moonlighting in Vermont fit the bill.  The first Bree MacGowan adventure was a fun romp.  It is a mystery, so of course there is a body.  It is the first mystery in a new series, so of course our heroine is the suspected murder.  The writing is light and moves right along.  The first book introduced all the major characters, and Bree’s extensive menagerie, and easily drew me right along to the second.

California Schemin’ starts out with a body, as all good mysteries do.  Despite being all the way across the country, Bree has managed to discover yet another dead body.  Through the lens of her camera in the California mountains she sees a woman fall from a bridge.  Racing to pull the mystery woman from the river, Bree finds a bullet hole in the woman’s head.  Her best rescue efforts couldn’t have saved her.

From there things get a little weird.  After reporting the crime she is sent home by local law enforcement.  Her escape from the events swirling around the murder is not so easy.  Instead of being safe at home in Vermont she is kidnapped back to California in an effort to implicate the wrong men in the murder.  Held captive in a multi-million dollar mansion, her new best friends include the kidnappers Moose and Hammie, Hammie’s fiancée Paris, and Wendy the daughter of the alleged murderer.  She also has an unlikely ally in a woman working for the FBI who claims she is a shape-shifting alien.  Their first encounter on the plane back to Vermont does render some comic humor.  With their help she eventually escapes home to Vermont only to have one last run-in with the murderer.

There are a few loose ends that were not explained to my satisfaction:  the shape shifting alien leads the list.  My suspension of disbelief only goes so far.  While the construct was interesting, it seemed out of place in a traditional mystery.  A little too deus ex machina for my tastes.  The others leave interesting trails to further adventures:  who is Hammie really and what is he doing?

There are elements of romance and mystery in this series.  Bree is not exactly a crime solving wiz, but her heart is in the right place.  They remind me a little bit of Gemma Halliday’s high heels mysteries as well as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum’s.  She is currently straddling the line between the two.  I hope she eventually falls over on the side of Halliday:  pick a guy and stick with him!  No matter where she ends up, I believe we will continue to see good things from Ms. George.  I certainly hope to see more of Bree.

Toni is an historian and published technical writer who is slowly venturing into the blogosphere with thought-provoking reviews on romance and mysteries.  One day she hopes she will be able to turn her attention to writing the Great American Novel.  Toni lives with the most spoiled cat on the planet (Lincoln) and his sister (Abby) in a house filled with wine, chocolate, and, of course, books.