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Review ✯ Tagged For Death by Sherry Harris

January 28, 2015

taggedfordeath

Starting your life over at age thirty-eight isn’t easy, but that’s what Sarah Winston finds herself facing when her husband CJ runs off with a 19-year-old temptress named Tiffany. Sarah’s self-prescribed therapy happily involves hitting all the garage and tag sales in and around her small town of Ellington, Massachusetts. If only she could turn her love for bargain hunting into a full-time career.

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure

But after returning from a particularly successful day searching for yard sale treasures, Sarah finds a grisly surprise in one of her bags: a freshly bloodied shirt…that undoubtedly belongs to her ex, CJ, who now happens to be Ellington’s chief of police. If that’s not bad enough, it seems Tiffany has gone missing. Now it’s up to Sarah to prove that her cold-hearted ex is not a cold-blooded killer…

But finding that treasure can be murder.

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For fans of: Josie Belle

Six months ago, Sarah Hooker was a military spouse living on Fitch Air Force Base. Then her husband CJ knocked up a 19-year-old airman (airwoman?) named Tiffany and life as Sarah knew it was turned upside down. CJ was forced to retire from his job as security forces squadron commander and Sarah Hooker became Sarah Winston – a 38-year-old divorcee living alone in an apartment in Ellington, MA.

Now Sarah fills her days with garage sales and volunteer work – or, at least, she did until Tiffany went missing and someone planted evidence in Sarah’s car implicating CJ. Sarah may resent her ex for his infidelity, but she knows he’s incapable of any criminal wrongdoing. Can Sarah exonerate CJ, or will investigating Tiffany’s disappearance cause her to suffer a similar fate?

Tagged for Death is the first of Sherry Harris’ Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries. I’ll admit, the stated premise of this series gave me pause; how does one write a mystery – let alone an entire series of mysteries – about garage sales? As it turns out, though, Tagged for Death is less a garage-sale cozy than it is a cozy about life in (and out of) the military (now with bonus garage sales!). Mind you, that’s not bad thing – the military angle is something I’ve never before seen in a traditional mystery, and I’d love to read a series with that focus – but it does feel a bit like false advertising. I’m curious to see if the next installments will continue in the vein of the debut, or if the stories will transition away from the military as Sarah transitions into civilian life.

Branding issues aside, Tagged for Death has potential; the setup is clever, the circumstances surrounding the mystery are unique, and I love how, months later, Sarah and CJ’s split is still affecting every aspect of their respective lives. Unfortunately, though, Harris never capitalizes on that potential. The mystery is lackluster, Harris doesn’t quite earn her ending, and while Harris’ relationships are nuanced, her characters are not. You never get a sense of who Sarah is as a person; she’s defined almost entirely by her marriage to and split from CJ. The cover copy says she’s 38, but the story itself provides no clue with regard to her age. (I spent most of the book assuming she was in her 50s.) She can’t cook, she has no children, she’s never held a job, and she doesn’t appear to have any interests or hobbies outside of attending garage sales. I love the fact that she’s older and more jaded than the average cozy protagonist, and she’s got a compelling narrative voice, but that’s not enough to make me root for her. That, coupled with a two-dimensional supporting cast, make it unlikely I’ll return for book two.

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Reviewed by Kat

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