She Shoots To Conquer by Dorothy Cannell: I love Dorothy Cannell's Ellie Haskell mysteries, but some are not quite up to par. This one is fantastic. Cannell mixes reality television with gothic mystery in this clever 13th entry. Ellie, Ben, and Mrs. Malloy take a wrong turn on a foggy night and end up at Mucklesfeld Manor, a crumbling estate owned by the financially strapped Lord Belfrey, who has decided to offer himself up in marriage for a reality television show in hopes of reviving the old estate. Our group arrives just before filming is to begin, and discover that a contestant has died in a tragic car accident. Mrs. Malloy is eager to roll up her sleeves and join the fray, competing for Lord Belfrey's heart (and title), while Ben is roped into cooking for the snobby faux-French director. Mysterious connections between various contestants abound, and Ellie finds both Lord Belfrey and a visiting black Lab besotted with her (Ellie resembles Belfrey's second wife, who had disappeared with the family jewels). I had a great time reading this one.
Death of a Tart by Kate Borden: This series sounded great: I love mysteries set in New England, for whatever reason, and the volunteer mayor of a small town sounded like a fun amateur sleuth. This debut was okay enough that i wanted to read the rest of the series, but the series really grew on me. PJ (sometimes called Peggy in an annoying inconsistency) Turner lives hand-to-mouth on the proceeds from Tom's Tools, the hardware store she and her late husband had started. She and her eleven-year-old son are just hanging on in financially strapped Cobb's Landing when Max, the mysterious new owner of the bank, proposes that Cobb's Landing turn itself into a colonial village to attract tourists, turning the long-closed button factory into a hotel, and having residents hide their satellite dishes and don period costume all summer long. The desperate residents agree, and the transition seems to be going smoothly when the town tart turns up dead on the old water wheel. Since the entire police presence in Cobb's Landing is one man, PJ and her best friend since childhood decide to look into the death. The Max angle seemed rushed (not to mention unrealistic): he turns up in town and in a speech worthy of the monorail guy on The Simpsons, instantly convinces the whole town to go along with his colonial village plan. The integration of past (witch trials) and present (the murder) was interesting, but the resolution was a bit far-fetched, and I guessed the murderer. It was engaging enough that I picked up the other two books in the mystery.
Death of a Trickster by Kate Borden: Someone is playing Halloween pranks in Cobb's Landing. The high school's science class skeleton keeps turning up, frightening people into thinking a real murder has been done. Then Papa Luigi goes missing under strange circumstances, his granddaughter acting scared of something. When the new police chief's son turns up dead beside the bound Papa Luigi, Peggy and Lavinia break out their investigator hats once more. This entry felt like it further developed the characters and the town, and I enjoyed it more. Very cozy, cute small-town mystery.
Death of a Turkey by Kate Borden: This is the third and last Cobb's Landing mystery, and it was the best yet. PJ has a new neighbor, the appalling Prunella and her ill-mannered cat. Meanwhile, Max is pushing for a colonial Thanksgiving to bring in tourists off-season. Peggy isn't thrilled about having her family Thanksgiving plans pushed aside, and no one wants to wear their colonial costumes off-season. But she's soon distracted by the mysterious death of Prunella and a break-in at her shop. The resolution was telegraphed and a little strained, but the New England charm distracted me from that a bit. It was a cute holiday read.