I received this galley in exchange for an honest review.
Author: Tracy Gardner
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing
Published: September 3, 2019
This book is perfect for those that like: stories with sisters, dreamy doctors, and sassy grandmas.
You might not like this book if you aren’t into: detailed explanations about art, car chase scenes, or yanno…murder.
Savanna Shepard has called off her engagement, quit her job, sublet her apartment, and moved back to her hometown of Carson. Excited to be around her family once more, Savanna was also delighted to reconnect with an old family friend, Caroline. It was Caroline that influenced so much of who Savanna became, that she was more than happy to accept a request to paint a mural for Caroline’s 90th birthday party. Except, strange things kept happening at Caroline’s house, including a possible murder. Were they all connected? Was Caroline the true target? And why was the town doctor always around? And always so handsome?
Confession: I’ve only recently started reading cozy mysteries. But I have watched A LOT of Murder, She Wrote and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Does that count for anything? In any case, I told you that so you can know right off the bat that I’m no expert when it comes to cozies, but I have LOVED exploring this style of mystery writing and am always ready to discover both new and established authors in this genre.
Which is why I was so eager to get my hands on a copy of Hallmark Publishing’s first every cozy, Out of the Picture by Tracy Gardner.
Y’all. I had so much fun reading this one and trying to figure it out.
As with many cozies, Out of the Picture is set in a small town, Carson, where everyone knows everyone and everyone’s business. But what sets this story apart for me was Savanna herself. One of three sisters aptly named The Shepherd Sisters, she isn’t the typical baker, bookseller, or cafe owner, but a former Art Authenticator, turned Art Teacher. I found everything about her former career, which plays a large part in her sleuthing skills and the mystery itself, fascinating. The two other sisters, Skylar, a lawyer, and Sydney, owner of a dog grooming salon, were also well-written, but y’all, I can’t lie. I honestly had a hard time keeping the sister’s straight in my head in the first few chapters. It didn’t disrupt my reading of the story, but I had to flip back a couple of times to remind myself. The relationship of these sisters though, trumped my confusion and they were my favorite part of this book. They spoke like actual sisters and y’all, I was laughing out loud at some of their interactions.
The three of them, each with their own set of skills that they can offer, start to question a series of events that occur concerning their long-time family friend, Caroline. It’s because of their relationship with Caroline that the sisters go from gossiping about the strange circumstances during dinner, to a legit investigation as the severity of the events ramps up. In the course of this, they team up with a handsome doctor (aren’t they all) Aidan Gallager, and eventually a no-nonsense detective, Nick Jordan. In one scene, all are involved in a car chase scene that legit had my palms sweaty while reading.
The progression of Savanna from concerned friend to Sleuther was the most refreshing part of this cozy. One of my biggest pet peeves in any type of storytelling is lack of rational character motivation. When a character does or says something that really makes no sense and the reader is like, “WHY would that person do that?” It always feels like it’s just to tick off a box in a list of Things That Need to Happen. For the most part, cozies have to achieve this in a larger scope throughout their stories, because in reality, WHY would a baker investigate crimes in her town? Usually it’s explained away because the victim was someone the main character knew. Or the accused is a friend/family member and they want to help clear their name. In Out of the Picture, there was no Big Moment where Savanna declared that she would Find the Truth. It felt more like, one thing leading to another and then Savanna was like, “WHOOPS, I kinda might be in the middle of some murder plot.”
The mystery itself was well-plotted and while I was expecting one giant OMG, WHAT twist in the final pages, involving a character that I was convinced that did it, I was not disappointed with the way everything played out. In fact, my suspicions about this one character only highlights the author’s ability to write a good red herring.
Overall, this was a great start to the series and I’m looking forward to many more stories of the Shepherd Sisters. And let’s be real here, more of Aidan.
And maybe Jack Carson.