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Susan Breen introduces a charming new series heroine in this poignant and absorbing cozy mystery with a bite. Maggie Dove thinks everyone in her small Westchester County community knows everyone else’s secrets. Then murder comes to town.
When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.
At first, it sounded like a case on a television court show - Maggie Dove's arrogant neighbor Marcus Bender think her majestic oak tree spoils his view and want to remove it. The two have words after Maggie suspects Marcus of trying to poison her tree. The tree remains healthy, but things turn deadly when Maggie finds Marcus's body under the infamous tree. Maggie learns she is not the only one in her New York village that didn't get along with Marcus, and is determined to find out who hated him enough to commit murder.
Maggie Dove is promoted as a cozy mystery and there is no graphic violence, but the characters are more complex and flawed and the tone darker than the typical light-hearted cozy. Although I appreciate the careful unfolding of the story and the flawed characters, the sad mood and slow start to the book kept me from giving the book a higher rating. It was hard to connect with Maggie and most of the other characters in the book and the sad mood touches each part of the story and makes reading much of the book slow-going. Maggie's grief for her daughter and husband is strong and understandable, but almost overpowers the murder mystery. I was surprised at the identity of the murderer, as well as some of the other events that occur at the end of the book, so I did enjoy a few aspects of the book.
As the story continues, Maggie experiences even more loss, but is also given hope for the future. This new development could be the set-up for a follow-up book, which I would be willing to give a try, with hope for a lighter mood and a few more likeable characters.