Book review: ‘A Basket of Trouble,’ by Beth Groundwater
November 16, 2014
Nothing makes a cold winter night better than a good book by a warm fire. Even better is a fun, classic whodunit mystery written by a talented Colorado author. Beth Groundwater continues her popular Claire Hanover mystery series with her most recent book, "A Basket of Trouble," a clever romp deeply infused with a Western vibe.
The book reads simply, with no nonsense to weigh it down, and there is an easy dialogue to drive the action. Set in places very familiar to Colorado readers, the book is like sitting down to some comfort food. But there is also some spice in the serving Groundwater dishes up, as she intertwines the very controversial topic of illegal immigration and its impact on Colorado's business world and on those who have chosen to immigrate through the arduous and lengthy legal process.
With a protagonist molded in a similar vein to master sleuth, Agatha Christie's unassuming matron detective, Miss Marple, Groundwater creates a dynamic that leaves the reader comfortable to journey through the unfolding mystery alongside the innocuous and unthreatening Hanover, a middle-aged wife and mother who makes gift baskets for a living. She suffers from hot flashes and is a salt-of-the-earth woman who just wants the best for her brother, who is struggling to get his fledgling business off the ground.
The drama unfolds and escalates around this new family business, a riding stable in the shadow of the Garden of the Gods on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. With plenty of details about the equine culture, the story has broad appeal to both horse lovers and novices alike.
Along with being well-versed in the ins and outs of horse management, Groundwater is clearly comfortable with her main character, Claire, who has been the heroine of her two previous mysteries in the series. For fans of Groundwater's books, there are characters who carry forward and have a chance to develop further in this latest installment in the Claire Hanover mystery collection. Groundwater develops all of the characters slowly, which helps build the overarching tension as the inevitable deaths begin to accumulate.
In spite of murder being the name of the game, the book exudes a vibe of innocence and a comfortable predictability, all while leaving the mystery in a muddle until the very end. The puzzle unfurls in a manageable way, uncomplicated and allowing plenty of time for the reader to keep up and avoid meaningless side stories that don't advance the plot.
And the plot is a fun one: There are cantankerous stallions, ornery ranch hands and rival stable businesses competing for dominance in the trail ride domain. Groundwater weaves in the controversial subject of immigration to drive the tension and frame the murder mystery at the center of the story. These are real-life complexities that, in spite of the exaggerated murder mystery premise, ground the story in the real world. Fans of Groundwater's writing should be thrilled.
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