Maggie Phillips hasn't had it easy. As the wife of retired Navy SEAL, and the adoptive mother of two little hellions, Maggie is constantly looking for ways to improve her family's financial situation. She accepts a cleaning position for her new neighbors (who redefine the term eccentric), never imagining she will end up as the sole alibi for a man with a fascination for medieval torture devices when he is brought up on murder charges. While Maggie struggles to prove the man's innocence, her deadbeat brother arrives, determined to sell Maggie and Neil on his next great scheme and to mooch with a vengeance. If that isn't bad enough, her in-laws, (the cut-throat corporate attorneys) descend on the house, armed with disapproval and condemnation, for the family's annual Thanksgiving celebration. As the police investigation intensifies, Maggie searches for the killer among the upper echelon of Hudson, Massachusetts in the only way she can - by scrubbing their thrones. Of the porcelain variety, that is...
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I will admit that the blurb is what drew me into the story: the ability to present a murder mystery with a main character who is just “the right brand of crazy” to be funny, not too obsessed with taking herself or her reputation seriously, and wanting to help her family’s financial situation so that saving $3 on cheap toilet tissue is not the driving force to her knowing the aisles at W*****t well enough to walk them in her sleep.
Fairly recently relocated to a small town of Hudson, west of Boston and just inside the “Tech Belt” in Massachusetts, Maggie and her husband Neil ( a retired Navy SEAL) have found a modest house for they and their two sons to settle in. Decent schools, not quite strapped enough to be house-poor, the opportunity for Maggie to take on some housecleaning jobs in the little neighborhood is a perfect one for extra money. And, with the encouragement of her best friend, she decides to go for it, calling her company The Laundry Hag.
When the wife of her first client is found dead, all eyes turn to him. But, Maggie was “enjoying” one of several uncomfortable moments with this man with his fascination for torturous devices and their history, and is the alibi that proves he didn’t physically kill his wife. But, Maggie (and her best friend Sylvia) have their own ideas and a misguided sense of their own abilities and are determined to unveil the murderer themselves.
Several twists and turns, with an incredibly well-plotted story that kept the killer under wraps until the end, Maggie is delightful and clever, with a knack for seeing herself with brutally honest eyes, and finding the funny. Her relationship with her husband and son are delightfully portrayed and very real, with Neil’s acceptance of her “happy place moves” as she stands in her kitchen and just sniffs, to ground herself in the moment and release tension. These two are perfectly matched with his protective abilities and sense, and her own particular brand of crazy that is wholly engaging and utterly devoid of deception or ill will.
Secondary characters are far more than just additions: arriving with an instant impression from Maggie, and then allowed to develop and show themselves as the story continues. Her best friend Sylvia, and her immature younger brother Marty , right behind “Pee Wee Herman and Joseph Stalin” on her list of potential babysitters for her two sons Josh and Kenny. With neighbors, police and a ‘gym rat’ all rolled into the mix – the asides about the characters from Maggie’s perspective are funny and sharp, instantly presenting a visual for them. And her in-laws are perfectly dislikable and overplay their hand often where Neil is concerned. Far from creating a division, he is wonderfully supportive and protective of the woman he loves.
Narration in this audio version is provided by Suzanne Cerreta and she has a nice mix of tone and emphasis to give distinctive delivery and sound to the characters. I love the often rapid-fire witticisms from Maggie, and you are never in doubt whether she is thinking or verbalizing her bon mot of the moment. While she didn’t over-reach to present any of the male voices, each one of them had a distinct flavor and delivery, and she nailed the emotive emphasis that gives a voice a certain ménage, belligerence, protective or even adolescent edge, that enhanced the story without distracting.
It’s hard not to empathize with Maggie: everyone will find a moment in her life that is all too familiar: from lamenting a book report on a Hemingway title “it’s true alcoholics hurt more than themselves, even after death”. Maggie has several moments from laundry sorting, to battling with pantyhose and a random wiry grey hair, and even her husband knowing her mood from the casual and comfy outfit she put on. We all have moments to relate, and Jennifer L. Hart managed to bring that into the story and enhance the story in an enjoyable way. If you want a fun, funny and completely engaging cozy mystery, grab this story now.
I received an AudioBook copy of the title via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.