I love this time of year! Halloween decorations, the nip in the air, the gorgeous fall colors. It's the perfect time for snuggling under the covers and reading something spooky. I've been reading Shirley Damsgaard mysteries again; once I discovered she had written five, I had to read them all. The sixth, The Witch's Grave, comes out in December (memo to Avon Books: why not October?).
My review of Witch Way To Murder, the first in the series.
My review of Charmed To Death, the second in the series.
The third in the series is The Trouble With Witches, in which a journalist friend asks for Ophelia's help investigating the disappearance of a girl involved with a possible cult in Minnesota that concerns itself with psychic abilities. Naturally, Abby and Darci help her out. They encounter a strange girl named Tink who is being raised by her aunt and uncle (Jason and Juliet), the leaders of the group. Abby and Ophelia can sense the presence of evil at a strange cabin in the woods: who is behind it? The strange Native American man who hates whites? Tink, who clearly has unrealized power? The strange man they've seen in the area? And did the missing girl leave under her own steam, as Juliet and Jason insist? There's a lot going on in this entry in the series, but it's balanced very well between the paranormal and the mystery. The scenes at the cabin are downright creepy. The character development continues to be consistent, yet interesting, as Ophelia learns more about her heritage and how to use her gifts.
The fourth in the series is Witch Hunt, in which a biker gang has descended on Summerset. Darci's cousin is accused of murdering one of the bikers, and she begs Ophelia to investigate. Though Ophelia has her hands full with her foster daughter, Tink, she reluctantly agrees. This entry took a little more work for me to get into, and I'm not sure exactly why. Biker gangs are not one of my favorite plot devices, so that may explain it. Darci's boyfriend really stretched credibility a bit--though Damsgaard takes pains to have Darci explain the attraction to Ophelia, I had trouble believing that such a strong, self-aware character would submit to her boyfriend's fashion preferences and behavior modification. I really wanted Ophelia to smack Darci and say "Snap out of it!" though I understand her point that it wouldn't have done any good. And, given what I've read about domestic abuse, Darci's slowly changing behavior and defense of her boyfriend's controlling nature are pretty accurate. That doesn't make it less frustrating, though. At any rate, though this wasn't my favorite in the series, it was still an enjoyable read. The added dimension of Ophelia's mothering really stretches her character in a delightful way, and her challenges in dealing with a teenager who is also a talented medium are well-handled.
The fifth in the series is The Witch Is Dead, in which a funeral director dies just after Tink senses something "icky" about him. When her dog pulls a skull out of the woods, Tink feels she's being punished for failing to prevent the funeral director's murder. Meanwhile, Abby's Aunt Dot (who sees fairies) has come to town, Darci has bullied Ophelia into speed-dating, and the hyper-organized Gert is taking Darci's place at the library while Darci goes back to school. Again, all these elements are balanced very well, and when Tink disappears in the midst of Ophelia's finalizing the adoption, the mystery is gripping.
Oveview of the series so far: Damsgaard is an excellent writer, and the paranormal elements are balanced perfectly with the traditional arc of a cozy mystery. One of the best parts about cozy mystery series is the reader's ability to watch the characters grow over time, but after several books, characters can become stale. That's not a problem here. Damsgaard brings tertiary characters in and out of the books to keep them fresh and to challenge the main/secondary characters, forcing them to grow in believable ways. Even better, she defies the cozy mystery convention that a single woman in a cozy series must be in want of a boyfriend. Although Ophelia dates/makes connections with men in the books, there's no annoying, dragged-out love triangle, and no romance that must be stalled in contrived ways to keep the heroine from being married with five kids by book 3. Even better, Abby, Ophelia's grandmother, has a romance in the books, a sensitive portrayal of an older couple that is neither chaste nor the butt of jokes. Darci, the bubbly blonde, defies dumb blonde jokes with her insight and perseverance, and she brings the more serious Ophelia out of herself in fun ways. The plotting of the mysteries is tight and the paranormal elements appropriately creepy. All five books in this series are fun, spooky, gripping reads with well-developed characters and intriguing plots. I highly recommend them to cozy mystery fans, even those who are unsure of a paranormal series.