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Debbie Wiley | Keeping Cozy During Back to School

September 9, 2019

Senior Reviewer Debbie Wiley 

School is back in session and it’s time to hit the textbooks! Navigating the politics of any school system can be tricky, but it’s even worse when things turn to murder. Several cozy mystery authors give us a taste of what happens when things turn deadly.

Lee Hollis takes us into the ugly shenanigans at Portland High in MURDER AT THE PTA where someone has been posting nasty rumors and gossip on an anonymous blog. Private Investigator Maya Kendrick tracks down the owner of the blog, only to find her dead. Meanwhile, Sandra Wallage, PTA President and wife of a US Senator, is facing all sorts of hostility thanks to the last rumor posted on the blog. Maya doesn’t believe the death is a suicide, and Sandra wants to help. Lee Hollis’ first book in the Maya and Sandra Mystery takes some hilarious turns, even as we see Maya and Sandra dealing with some very weighty personal issues. I like that we see how Maya and Sandra team up together and I can’t wait to see what other murders they will solve!

Susan Wittig Albert takes us away from high school to the college level in A PLAIN VANILLA MURDER. A botany professor appears to have committed suicide, but Police Chief Sheila Dawson has some doubts. Susan Wittig Albert delves into the dangers surrounding the vanilla trade while offering up tidbits on the history and mythology of vanilla. I’m a long-time fan of the China Bayles series and enjoyed Susan Wittig Albert switching perspectives so that we could see Sheila’s point of view. I love all the fascinating information Susan Wittig Albert provides about various spices and herbs and A PLAIN VANILLA MURDER may have been my favorite yet when it comes to that piece.

Next, we travel to an all-girls school with THE SCENT OF MURDER by Kylie Logan. Jazz Ramsey is an administrative assistant at the school and enjoys a side hobby training cadaver dogs. She’s horrified when the dog she is working with finds a dead body, even more so when it’s a young woman she recognizes her as a former student. I love just about any book with dogs in it, and THE SCENT OF MURDER is no exception. I hope we see more of the cadaver dog training in future books.

Lastly, we visit one of my favorite long-running series featuring school psychiatrist Skye Denison-Boyd. Denise Swanson’s Scumble River and Welcome Back to Scumble River series are the perfect way to round things out. While not every book in the series features a murder tied directly to the school system, each and every book showcases some of the trials, tribulations, and successes of a student services employee working in the school system. DIE ME A RIVER is the latest installment and includes Skye advocating for a homeless student, utilizing the McKinney-Vento Act.

There are plenty of other cozy mysteries out there that involve schools in one way or another, but I’ve just included a couple here. What are some of your favorites?



Murder at the PTA

First in a new series!

Someone is trying to turn Portland High into a school for scandal with a gossipy website called Dirty Laundry. The latest target of ruinous rumors is newly elected PTA president Sandra Wallage. After a heated meeting with outraged parents, Sandra runs into fellow school mom and private investigator Maya Kendrick, who’s discovered the person behind the website. But when the women storm into the venomous gossip columnist’s office they find a lifeless body–along with a confession.

Although the police rule the death a suicide, Maya suspects an injured party hung the Dirty Laundry creator out to dry. Maya already has a PI partner–but she’s pregnant, and sonograms and stakeouts tend to conflict. So when Sandra volunteers for a crash course in sleuthing, Maya accepts the help. But as these unlikely partners study the clues, a killer plans to teach them a lesson . . .

Mystery Cozy [Kensington, On Sale: August 27, 2019, Paperback, ISBN: 9781496719867 / ]

Sharing Dirty Laundry can be deadly….


A PLAIN VANILLA MURDER by Susan Wittig Albert

China Bayles Mystery #27

A Plain Vanilla Murder

From Susan Wittig Albert, the New York Times best-selling author of Queen Anne’s Lace, comes an intriguing new addition to her widely-acclaimed China Bayles Mysteries.

China and Ruby Wilcox are presenting their annual ”Not Just Plain Vanilla Workshop,” always a huge hit with customers at Thyme & Seasons Herb Shop. But someone involved with the workshop is driven by a deadly motive, and China soon finds herself teaming up with the very pregnant Pecan Springs police chief Sheila Dawson to solve a vanilla-flavored murder.

Sheila, happy to get out from behind the chief’s desk, is investigating the death of a botany professor, a prominent researcher specializing in vanilla orchids. China is trying to help a longtime friend: the dead professor’s ex-wife and a prime suspect in his murder.

However, there’s no shortage of other suspects: a betrayed lover, a disgruntled graduate student, jealous colleagues, and a gang of orchid smugglers. But the lethal roots of this mystery reach back into the dark tropical jungles of Mexico, where the vanilla vine was first cultivated. At stake: a lucrative plant patent, an orchid that is extinct in the wild, and the life of an innocent little girl.

A Plain Vanilla Murder is a flavorful blend of mystery and herb lore, present sins and past secrets, and characters who are as real as your next-door neighbors stirred together in an absorbing novel that only Susan Wittig Albert could create.

Mystery Cozy | Mystery Amateur Sleuth | Mystery Woman Sleuth [Persevero Press, On Sale: June 4, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780998233208 / eISBN: 9780998233222]

Vanilla can be deadly…



Jazz Ramsey #1

The Scent of Murder

First in a new series from national bestselling author Kylie Logan, The Scent of Murder is a riveting mystery following Jazz Ramsey as she trains cadaver dogs.

The way Jazz Ramsey figures it, life is pretty good. She’s thirty-five years old and owns her own home in one of Cleveland’s most diverse, artsy, and interesting neighborhoods. She has a job she likes as an administrative assistant at an all-girls school, and a volunteer interest she’s passionate about–Jazz is a cadaver dog handler.

Jazz is working with Luther, a cadaver dog in training. Luther is still learning cadaver work, so Jazz is putting him through his paces at an abandoned building that will soon be turned into pricey condos. When Luther signals a find, Jazz is stunned to see the body of a young woman who is dressed in black and wearing the kind of makeup and jewelry that Jazz used to see on the Goth kids back in high school.

She’s even more shocked when she realizes that beneath the tattoos and the piercings and all that pale makeup is a familiar face.

The lead detective on the case is an old lover, and the murdered woman is an old student. Jazz finds herself sucked into the case, obsessed with learning the truth.

Mystery | Suspense [Minotaur Books, On Sale: May 7, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250180612 / eISBN: 9781250180629]

Dogs and Murder — Who killed Florie Allen?

Jazz and Luther makes an unexpected discovery in an abandoned building…


DIE ME A RIVER by Denise Swanson

Welcome Back to Scumble River #2

Die Me a River

In Scumble River, Skye investigates a suspicious death at the local bowling alley. And with a murderer on the loose, there’s no time to spare. . .

Skye Denison-Boyd and her husband, Wally, are meeting with their priest to finalize the arrangements for their twins’ baptism when a loud blast rocks the rectory. Seconds later, they discover that there has been an explosion at the town bowling alley. Although the bowling alley was closed at the time, there’s a dead body inside, soon identified as Paige Myler. Paige was a representative for a huge property/casualty insurance company that many Scumble Riverites are suing in the wake of a recent tornado.

Even with two newborns to care for, Skye can’t help herself from looking more closely into the suspicious death–and what she finds is much more sinister than she ever imagined.

Mystery [Sourcebooks Landmark, On Sale: September 4, 2018, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781492648352 / eISBN: 9781492648369]

Another fun visit to Scumble River…

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