Today’s team review is from Olga.
Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com
Olga has been reading Murder At Buckskin Joe by JVL Bell
Cozy mysteries can be a bit hit-and-miss for me, but this one, with the added attraction of the historical gold-mining background setting and the fabulous cast of characters worked wonderfully for me, and I loved it. Even though this is the third book in a series, it can be read and enjoyed in its own right, as it does provide readers with all the relevant details needed to follow the story, although I confess I wouldn’t mind reading the two previous ones.
The description of the book is quite apt, although it can’t reflect the full catalogue of adventures and characters included in the novel. We have the fabulous background of the gold mining town (already running out of gold at the time of the story), with plentiful but well-integrated historical detail; we have the day-to-day drudgery of living in an outpost of “civilization” (a term I use fairly loosely here); we have the animals (I love Buttercup, the fainting goat, and don’t ask me to explain, but I am also fond of the burros [donkeys in Spanish], and even the bear… No, I’m not explaining that either); we have a sheriff who is a gifted baker (the characters aren’t the only ones drooling over his confectionery); we have secret and newly found relatives all around; we have ill-fated love stories, and others that seemed impossible but work out; we have Dom and Millie’s children, Rachel (oh, she is infuriating but such a fabulously realistic character, and I love her to bits), and Hosa (who wouldn’t worry about a Navajo boy who lost his family but only wants to go back and fight against the white men?)… And, of course, we have Dom and Minnie. Minnie is the main character, and although the story is told in the third-person, we see everything from her point of view, and it is impossible not to like her. I particularly enjoyed the fact that she is not a modern heroin transplanted to the past. Although she has her own ideas, she also hesitates, tries her hardest to conform to the norms (down to using etiquette books and all), feels conflicted about her desire to investigate and what she feels is her duty towards her husband and children, and she is not perfect. She is daring and determined, rushed at times, but she can also be frightened and even phobic about certain situations. She doubts her own skills as a mother and questions herself, and that made her a true character rather than a caricature for me. Dom, her husband, is again not perfect. He supports her, is patient with her and understands her, but he is not beyond making mistakes, trusting people he shouldn’t, and even turning on her when he gets anxious or scared. Yes, they do fight, and yes, they do love each other. It feels like a real marriage, with two people trying their hardest to make everything work in their highly unconventional family.
I have already mentioned some of the things I really liked about this novel. I enjoyed the way the characters are created, because even those who don’t play big parts are not simple cut-outs. They all have their personalities, their distinctive features, and they all keep us guessing. I also like the historical note the author includes at the beginning of the novel. I have read historical novels where I spent most of the time wondering how much of what I was reading was based in fact and how much was creative license. Here, the author covers that at the very beginning, before we start reading, and although in her acknowledgments she talks about her sources and her process of creation in more detail, we are in no doubt as to what we are reading.
I also enjoyed that, despite the many things going on throughout the novel, the actual investigation is never too far away from the centre of the action, and although, evidently, this is not a police procedural novel where everything is highly scientific and all the details are accounted for, if we take into account the era and where the action takes place, the murder mystery works well, and I loved the slightly bittersweet ending as well.
The writing is dynamic, flows well, and it combines inner reflection and observation on the part of Millie with plenty of action scenes, which keep us turning the pages. There are many amusing moments, some scary ones as well, and the dialogues bring the characters to life and make them jump out of the page truly realised. We also learn about gold mining and about the era, its social mores and the way daily life was organised, and the knowledge and research the author has done and her talent in combining a cozy murder mystery with a historical novel portraying the life in the second half of the XIX century in the Territory of Colorado shines through. It’s a winner.
I don’t really dislike anything about the book; I can only say that I hope there will be further adventures, and we’ll get to know what happened to some of the other characters we’ve met here. I am happy there are previous novels I can catch up on as well.
In summary, this is a fantastic novel. It is funny, it is informative, it is full to the brim with unforgettable characters, it has plenty of adventures, it contains historical information about gold mining that never impedes the flow of the story, and it includes adventures and action scenes to satisfy those who prefer stories that keep moving along at a good pace. And a fairly solid, if cozy, mystery. There are threats, scary moments, and even violence, although not extreme, and I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys a good yarn. It’s solid gold.
Territory of Colorado, 1865
Millie knows the raucous mining town of Buckskin Joe is no place for children, but when Dom’s Uncle George shows up needing help, the whole family reluctantly heads to South Park. George has been accused of murdering his mining partner, Wandering Will, and although Millie questions his innocence, she finds there are many suspects who wanted Will dead.
There’s fancy-girl Queeny, Will’s ex-wife, and dancehall-girl Kate, who wanted to be Will’s next wife—until he dumped her. Mountain man Kootenay despised Will enough to have dispatched him and the Odd Fellows have seized George and Will’s mine, claiming the gold inside for themselves.
Millie’s investigation heats up when Dom volunteers to visit the local saloon for some hands-on investigating of Queeny and Kate. Interruptions from hostile Utes, the children’s devilment, and the local schoolmistress chasing after Dom make this Millie’s most difficult investigation—especially when the killer decides she is getting too close.
Murder at Buckskin Joe weaves a cozy murder mystery with fascinating South Park mining history and lovable, unforgettable historic characters.