Tour’s Books Blog

August 21, 2009

Book Review: Hex Marks the Spot by Madelyn Alt

  • Title: Hex Marks the Spot
  • Author: Madelyn Alt
  • Type: Mystery
  • Genre: Paranormal cozy series
  • Sub-genre: Gifted human witch with a talent for crime
  • My Grade:  B- (3.6*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold

Madelyn Alt writes very likable, if rather predictable, cozy mysteries with unusual settings and very limited ‘woo-woo’ factor.  Her Bewitching Mystery series feature Maggie O’Neill, a woman discovering her empathic ‘talent’ with the help of her older friend and mentor, Felicity ‘Liss’ Dow, a witch.  Between them they run a ‘gift sop/antique store/witchy emporium’.  Today Maggie and Liss are off to the first fair of the spring season looking for stock for the store and perhaps something for themselves.  The book is set in Stony Mill, Indiana and the area plays host to both Mennonite and Amish communities.  Lissa buys much of her furniture and other handmade articles from them.

As the two walk the fair, Lissa spots a magnificent cabinet by one of the Amish furniture makers, Eli, she regularly buys from, but this is quite different for his usual work.  The cabinet has lovely detailed carvings of Celtic design and is brightly colored.  Eli offered another Amish man, Luc, work and the carving was his.  The cabinet will go up for auction, so Liss isn’t sure she’ll get it or not, but she and Maggie can admire the handiwork of the very handsome Luc.

At the auction an older woman, Mrs. Manfield, a church friend of Maggie’s mother, wins the cabinet.  Maggie’s overhears her talking with another woman and wonders if the ladies in her mother’s church know she has an eye for the men, especially the handsome Luc.  Then there’s a confrontation between Liss’s former brother-in-law, Jeremy Harding, who cheated on her sister with the obnoxious and self-centered woman, Jetta James, who is now berating Eli for not telling her that Luc did the carving and making her feel like a fool.

Later, Maggie chats Luc’s wife, Hester, at the booth where the Amish ladies sell cakes, bread and hot soup, a welcome lunch on a chilly spring day.  Maggie gets mixed signals off her and then overhears an argument between her and Luc before he pedals off to do a job.  Apparently, they need the money.  (You get the feeling that Maggie spends an awful lot of time overhearing private conversations.)  It’s a long and exhausting afternoon at the fair, but Marcus arrives and as usual, Maggie is drawn to him but keeps her distance.  He’s Liss’s friend and besides, Maggie and her sort of ex-boyfriend, .  It’s late when she drops Liss home and she declines an offer of a bed and heads to her own place, a little spooked by the black night and she’s grateful Marcus is behind her on his motorcycle.  Then a strange traffic jam happens – the Amish buggies have stopped in the road.  Luc Metzger is dead.

A cell phone call later and it’s Maggie’s sort of boyfriend, Tom Fielding, shows up in full cop mode.  The other Amish are praying over Luc’s body – or destroying evidence, depending on your point of view.  Maggie can’t resist meddling.

Ms Alt gives her readers a chance to learn something of the Amish, which despite conventional thought, do not just inhabit Lancaster, PA environs.  She also does a good job on the wiccan sections, which she deftly weaves into the story – along with Maggie’s growing acceptance of her gifts.  Told in the first person, as many cozies are, Maggie is an entertaining and intelligent woman.  As a mystery, it’s ‘Meh’.  I knew who did it by the end of the first few chapters.  But Luc’s wife is the real surprise here.

What raises Hex Marks the Spot above the usual too-cute-for-words cozy, is Maggie’s character and the atmosphere that Ms Alt creates.  She never slips into the cutsie silliness, or contrived slapstick, that so many authors are prone to these days in thier single minded pursuit to be the next Janet Evanovich.  SHe does give in to the nearly universal ‘two men syndrome’ with Tom and Marcus, though it’s as annoying as it’s become with the STephanie Plum novels.  Marcus has been an interesting character from the beginning of the series and it looks like he and Maggie might have something together in the future.  Ms Alt’s characters have real depth and the denoument was completely unexpected.  Her wordsmithing is a delight and her reaserch seems pretty solid, though I’m no expert on the Amish or wiccan beliefs.  Ms Alt spends a bit of time looking at the intent of ‘magic’.  Like power, magic isn’t good or bad, it’s the intent of the person using it that determines the god or bad.  She also discusses hex signs – again with an eye to the intent of the sign, not just the appearance.

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