Friday, May 23, 2008

Mystery Book Review: How to Ruin a Vacation by Becky A. Bartness

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written a review of How to Ruin a Vacation by Becky A. Bartness. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

How to Ruin a Vacation by Becky A. BartnessBuy from

How to Ruin a Vacation by
A Kate Williams Mystery

iUniverse (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-595-45405-4 (0595454054)
ISBN-13: 978-0-595-45405-1 (9780595454051)
Publication Date: February 2008
List Price: $12.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Uptight attorney Kate Williams is sent on a much-needed vacation by her partner at their law firm. Her destination is the Lazy ZZ Ranch, sixty miles northeast of Tucson, Arizona. Kate pictures a spa-like resort for her respite, a comfortable lodge dripping with rustic, frontier ambience. Instead, she’s greeted by a pink stucco building, the front lawn filled with plastic flamingos and every imaginable lawn ornament. Something tells her this isn’t going to be the vacation she envisioned.

Unwittingly, Kate stumbles upon the murder of a Mexican immigrant employee of the Lazy ZZ Ranch. She’s determined to report the crime and find the perpetrator, but she doesn’t know whom to trust. Should she tell her story to Chris MacKay, who has already admitted he was involved in another murder, or should Kate confide in the dude ranch owner, Jeff Oman, who is deceptive, handsome and chivalrous?

In a week, she comes face-to-face with horror and misery. Kate must call upon her inner strength to save her life and uncover the sinister motives behind the murder.

Review: Becky A. Bartness (an attorney herself) introduces lawyer and amateur sleuth Kate Williams who uncovers strange happenings while on vacation in How to Ruin a Vacation.

Kate's image of a week at a luxurious desert spa is shattered when she arrives at the Lazy ZZ Ranch in Arizona. Rather than the oasis she pictured, she's greeted by plastic pink flamingoes incongruously placed among a large assortment of other tacky lawn ornaments. The sprawling grounds are not well marked or lit, making the simple task of getting from one place to another difficult. One evening she takes a wrong turn and finds herself witness to what appears to be two people, a man and a woman, disposing of a dead body, that of a staff member that she had only recently met. While trying to get away, she stumbles into a ravine, knocking her unconscious, only to awaken in the home of a neighbor to the Lazy ZZ, a stranger with a past: years ago, he killed his wife after finding her in bed with another man. Not knowing who she can trust, and with the erratic availability of phone service to call for help, Kate embarks on her own investigation to determine who killed Lazy ZZ worker and why.

How to Ruin a Vacation is a relatively short book written in a crisp, almost spare, style that seems perfectly suited to its character, Kate Williams. The opening chapters that bring Kate to the Lazy ZZ Ranch are terrific, introducing other characters and setting the stage for her investigation. As a bonus, it's frequently amusing and a pleasure to read. But about midway through, the book loses some of its edginess that was so appealing in the beginning. For reasons never made quite clear, Kate goes from being a determined, intelligent, independent woman to a one that seems timid, easily frightened, and insecure. From a plot perspective, the intent here seems to be that Kate doesn't know who can be trusted with what she witnessed and thus presents herself a dependent and helpless female to further her investigation. But this is so out of character that it seems silly rather than strategic.

Despite the rather weak conclusion (a lead-in to the sequel?) and some other minor inconsistencies in plotting, How to Ruin a Vacation is an entertaining debut mystery with Kate Williams clearly having the potential to continue to delight readers in subsequent books in the series.

Special thanks to Becky A. Bartness for providing a copy of How to Ruin a Vacation for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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