Monday, October 05, 2015

Debut "Clock Shop" Mystery, JUST KILLING TIME, Julianne Holmes

It's fun to see the pseudonym in action, but there's no dark secret here: Julianne Holmes is a pen name for Sisters in Crime New England (and Boston drama!) leader Julie Hennrikus. Her debut mystery is releasing October 6 from Berkley Prime Crime, and it's a lively and enjoyable read -- JUST KILLING TIME.

Ruth Clagan is a clockmaker, like her grandfather G.T. (for Grandpa Thom). She's part of the fourth family generation in the trade, and loves her work. And her grandfather -- even though she's been estranged from him recently. Now, a bad marriage and divorce behind her, she's ready to reach out again to the person who most embodies home for her, in western Massachusetts.

So it's a terrible shock to get the worst possible news, while driving, from a lawyer on the phone -- her grandfather is dead.
They'd found the postcard I sent him at his shop, the Cog & Sprocket, and had been trying to reach me all week. The reading of the will was today. Would I possibly be able to make it? ...

"I've got it," I said. "I'll be there as soon as possible. I don't even, I mean, wow, this is starting to sink in. What happened? Had G.T. been sick? We've been out of touch. I'd hate to think I wasn't there to say good-bye." There was a long pause on the phone. For a second, I thought we'd been disconnected.

"Oh, Ruth, there's no easy was to say this. ... he was being robbed at the time. The police are treating it as murder."
Ruth rides a roller-coaster of grief as she drives five hours to her grandfather's shop, and the hometown that was once her own. She's quickly aware that his clock shop is now hers -- and she needs to finally meet her grandfather's recent second wife, the one from the marriage just after her own, the woman who took the place of Ruth's own beloved grandmother.

But there are plenty of things to sort out that have nothing to do with that past conflict over G.T.'s re-marriage and her own ill-fated one. Why are so many clocks crowded into the shop? Are there missing items, and are they significant? How much of her grandfather's death is tied to his business -- and how much to an attempt to develop the small town, increasing the natural frictions among neighbors new and old?

Julianne Holmes crafts a marvelous set of characters, especially Ruth Clagan, smart, serious about her craft and her art, and willing to change her mind as new information and experience come her way. The pace of the book says "cozy" -- there are moments of suspense but none of that intense sort of riskiness that makes a reader get up to check that the door is locked -- and the affections among the characters mingle with a bit of gentle romance-as-a-possibility. The clockmaking is a new slant in this field, and a great pleasure to read about, from historic clocks to mechanisms to controversies.

Best of all, Holmes establishes the scene for her series: a small town in the throes of growing up, and an amateur sleuth, Ruth Clagan, who takes action out of the best motives: love and loyalty.

Do pick up this debut; it's clear the series will be well-rounded and delightful. Thanks, Julianne Holmes (and Julie Hennrikus: for more on the two alter egos, check the website here).

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