Kay Driscoll and her husband Phil are about to celebrate their first Christmas at Sudbury Falls. They have parties to attend, a party of their own to host, their sons are coming in for a holiday visit, and one of their sons will be celebrating a birthday just after Christmas. Needless to say Kay has a lot to do. Christmas presents have to be bought, birthday gifts have to be found, decorations have to go up, and Kay is loving every moment of these hectic days especially since hubby, Phil, will be home with her for the entire week. Kay is in bliss until … yes, there’s always an “until.”
While attending a holiday party at the Hawthorne Hills Retirement Home Kay and the rest of the guests watch as Les Hollings, a caretaker, eats some food, starts to choke, falls to the ground, and dies. Les was allergic to peanuts and somehow peanut butter got into this food thus killing him.
The retirement home swears that they don’t use any peanut butter since some other guests have the same allergy. Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie had catered some of the food and Marissa said she didn’t use any sort of peanut product in the dishes that went to the retirement home. So how did the peanut butter get into Les’ food and no one else with a peanut allergy had problems? Well, that was obvious to Kay. Les was murdered for some reason.
With a little persuasion Kay agrees to investigate the murder not that she’s a detective but she did help solve a previous murder during Halloween. Husband Phil begs her not to get involved and the Sudbury Falls police chief especially doesn’t want her involved but what they don’t know can’t hurt them even though she herself just might be hurt in the process. But Kay starts her own investigation anyway with a little help from her best buds Elizabeth and Deidre.
“Murder Under the Tree” by Susan Bernhardt is the second book in the Kay Driscoll Mystery Series. “The Ginseng Conspiracy” is not only the first in the series but also Ms. Bernhardt’s first novel. It was terrific but “Murder Under the Tree” far surpasses it. It’s almost like the author got into her natural writing groove. Her skills are sharper and seems to lack the fear that she might have had about pleasing her publishers and readers with her first novel. Here she’s obviously writing from her heart. The party scenes and Kay’s home life descriptions are just about perfect and far from boring. I especially enjoyed the way she spoke about Sudbury Falls and how the community was gearing up for the Christmas Season. It made this Jewish New Yorker wish she lived in a small town and participated in all the Christmas activities and decorations. Big kudos to Susan Bernhardt for coming so far in her skills to write what she obviously felt and throwing her fears to the wind.
Now for the mystery portion. It was good. There were lots of suspects and you never really knew who the killer was until close to the end. Although I did start to suspect before Ms. Bernhardt gave the murderer’s name. The characters are enjoyable and well thought out. There’s a nice twist at the end when one of the character’s made a surprise discovery. That part was kind of nice and heat breaking too.
One thing was left up in the air and I read the last few pages a few times to make sure I didn’t miss it. The characters did talk about this missing aspect so I’m wondering if that will be answered when I read the third book which I have in my Kindle.
Will cozy lovers like the Kay Driscoll series? Sure, although it isn’t really a cozy even though some of the basics for a cozy are here. Mystery lovers will take to it because Ms. Bernhardt’s books are wonderful thrillers too.
And while I’m at it, I want to suggest that Susan add some recipes to her books. She talks a lot about food and I’d like to see a recipe or two. What can I say? I like food.
Do yourself a favor and start the Kay Driscoll mysteries. You’ll then see for yourself how a writer progresses from being good to incredible.
For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.