Saturday, February 18, 2017

Murder at Peacock Mansion - Masterful Mystery - by Judy Alter

Marj came into the kitchen, interrupting my worried thoughts. She was almost breathless with excitement. “Kate, Mrs. Aldridge is asking for you. She’s here, in the café. Sittin’ at a table like she comes in every day. But she particularly wants you.” 
I turned toward her, thinking murderous thoughts about whoever this Mrs. Aldridge was. 
“And who is she?” 
Marj scoffed. “Everybody is this county and the next knows about her. She lives up toward Canton, in a big mansion— they say she killed her husband, oh, years ago. But she doesn’t ever come out of the house, so you best hurry and find out why she’s here today.” 
I had no idea why her visit was urgent if she’d been holed up in that house for all those years, but I made a deliberate effort not to snap and take my worries out on Marj.
Her first words were, “Someone’s trying to kill me, and I need help.” Oh, wow! I so do not need this kind of thing today. 
“Someone’s trying to kill you?” In spite of myself I was curious. Who would try to kill this elegant, pleasant lady? 
“It’s a long story, but they get the house when I die… and I believe they expect to find a hidden fortune. Of course, they won’t. But I couldn’t convince them if I tried.” “Who are they?” 
“My late husband’s children. Three of them.”
 “I’m sorry for your loss.” It was almost an automatic condolence. 
“No need. He died thirty-three years ago, right in that very house. I was accused of murder but acquitted. Something about circumstantial evidence.”
I nearly spit my water across the table at her. “Did you kill your husband?” Nothing like being blunt, Kate. No outward indignation that I’d even thought it necessary to ask. 
“Of course not, but the idea occasionally surfaces and feeds the children’s paranoia. Not that they’re children any more, all in their fifties or damn close. Walter provided for them comfortably, but I think they’ve run out of money. And they rehash the whole thing with each other. The more they talk about it, the angrier they become.” 
Somewhere in there was a story I needed to hear in more detail… but not from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and not now. Yet I couldn’t resist asking, “How do you know they’re trying to kill you?”

I love cozy mysteries, but Judy Alter's latest is a step beyond the norm, in my opinion. For one, while the setting is small-town cozy, centering in on the Blue Plate Cafe setting, which is owned by the amateur detective main character, it is much more fast paced, edgy, and a solid mystery that will keep readers holding on to the very last, not imaging what is happening. 

For another thing, Kate Chambers has a work experience that provides her with more knowledge than usual, as well as a lawyer lover who gets into the hunt, especially since, in this case, he is the lawyer for the individual most involved with the murder... Kate is also not so obsessed that he does not forego her personal safety...too order to find another clue... 

On the other hand, because she'd been brought into the mystery right from the beginning, she soon became one of the many targets as an underlying cold case murder comes to the front again! No tea and slowly sinking into this's sit tall and be on the alert to watch for anything and everything that is happening... I didn't have a clue for the majority of the book--or until the author starts to reveal more... I really loved it!

Still, there was a little bit too much chicken-fried meals for me...LOL... steak, pork, chicken... Whew! Seriously, it didn't affect how I thought about the mystery; however, given the series title, I
did notice that there was not much a variety of foods at the cafe, which led to considerable redundancy, especially since the author included recipes at the end, none of which were mentioned in the book... OK, I admit it, I've never tried chicken-fried anything, except I've eaten a lot of fried chicken which didn't happen to be called chicken-fried... Fun stuff you can find in cozy mysteries!!! But I wasn't convinced I'd want something chicken-fried...except to promote peace and love! LOL...

Back to the review!  When an individual within a small town becomes known as somebody who has solved a mystery, the news gets around quickly. But it was still a surprise when a woman who had become a recluse after her husband was murdered 30 years ago, came to Kate's cafe, to seek her help. She believed somebody was trying to kill her. The first attempt had been a wire placed across the main staircase at her home...

Kate at least was curious enough to learn more, and she had turned to her computer to learn about the death of her husband, because, of course, the spouse is always the first person suspected.  Then she spent more time with Edith Aldridge to learn more about the children of her first husband. According to Edith, they should be considered the probable involved individuals... And coincidentally, it seemed, that all three children were in the area when things started happening at Edith's home. One of them was even staying in town under a different name (and loved the chicken-fry!) It was a surprise, though, for Kate to learn that her David had been Edith's lawyer for a number of years!

Edith had been given living rights by her husband for the rest of her natural life, and all the children were old enough to think their inheritance would never occur.

But what was part of the mystery was that more than Edith was being targeted. David's home was burnt down, with David almost dying if Kate had not gone hunting for him. And then animals belonging to Edith and one of the children had been killed (two of the blue peacocks!) Then disturbances occurred at Kate's home and one of her cafe workers was knocked out with the safe being robbed... Then, finally, a man who had tried to get into the cafe, supposedly to talk to Kate and David, was killed...the body moved...and found again near Kate's house!

The variety of incidents causes the mystery to be very complex in trying to pinpoint whodunit! But it certainly is a worthy mystery for readers to strive to figure out! As I mentioned, this is stronger than the average cozy mystery sub-genre and if not for the setting and style of writing, could easily fall into the murder mystery genre. This is my first book by this author, so I don't know whether she is limiting her writing to cozy mystery, but I'd like to see her expand into a more traditional mystery some time...

In the meantime, I certainly can recommend the book for your consideration!


I'm really a mystery author! Hard for me to believe because it's always been my secret ambition to write mysteries. Six Kelly O'Connell Mysteries--Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death--are now available in print and as e-books. And three Blue Plate Cafe Mysteries, Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House, and Murder at Peacock Mansion, are also available. In that series, I move from an inner city urban neighborhood to a small town in East Texas.
New in October 2014: a self-published title, The Perfect Coed, which is a big leap for me in many ways, and I'm excited about it. It's set on a fictional college campus in Texas and features a prickly English professor who finds a coed's body in the trunk of her car. So far, it's gotten high praise. I'm the author of about eighty books for children and adults. My main interest for years was the experiences of women in the American West, and I've written six adult novels with that theme and seven young-adult novels. Three of the adult novels, now called Western Historical Romances--Libbie, Cherokee Rose, and Sundance, Butch and Me--are available on Kindle, as are Ballad for Sallie, a book about the late 19th-century street children in Fort Worth, Mattie, a novel about a pioneer woman physician on the Nebraska prairie, and Sue Ellen Learns to Dance, a collection of short stories about women in the American West. Also available are children's books on a variety of subjects and a memoir/cookbook (Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books), ...and other works.
Another big switch in April 2016--back to historical with The Gilded Cage, set in Chicago as it grew from swampland to host of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, following two leading historical figures: tycoon and hotelier Potter Palmer and his activist wife Bertha Honoré Palmer who fought for women’s rights and help for the poor. A story of love, major historical events, class warfare, intrigue, a forbidden love interest, and murder. Retirement is great, and I'm having fun writing. Please feel free to email me at

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