Rating: 4.5 stars
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Gus Goodwin, a pagan shopkeeper and owner of the Four Corners’ occult shop, has no idea his life is about to change forever when a man called Valentine walks into his store. Sparks start to fly as the mysterious man starts asking questions about the Wicca religion and Gus’ shop. Then it turns out that Valentine is actually Niall Valentine, a PI investigating the disappearance of a local witch named Joy, and things start to get complicated for both of them.
With Gus involving himself in Niall’s investigation, the two of them encounter one dead witch, and then another. As the bodies pile up, and fingers begin to point to other witches in the area, Gus and Niall’s relationship takes a serious turn. With a killer on the loose and the Wiccan community in an uproar, will Gus and Niall find the missing girl alive? And what will happen to their romance once the case is solved?
Susan Laine, a Finn, wrote this book in part because of a Finnish Supreme Court ruling in 2001 that did not recognize Wicca as an “registered religious community” or established religion. This “hurtful act” inspired this book. As she wrote in her Acknowledgements “Sparks and Drops was written, in part, to show the life-affirming quality of Wicca and its rituals.” To that I say, she has succeeded in her goal and given us a terrific new series in the process.
Sparks & Drops contains so many different elements and combines them admirably. There is the mystery element as the men investigate first the missing Joy, a woman we get to know in her absence as the investigation deepens. Then as the murderer strikes, the investigation turns deadly and the suspense ratchets up as the men themselves fall into danger. Laine superimposes Gus and Niall’s growing romance over her murder mystery, balancing love and the investigation aspect equally. And importantly for this author, the teachings and rituals of the Wiccan religion flow like the threads of a tapestry throughout the story, pulling it together and highlighting its basic tenants while pointing out many misconceptions. It all works here and works exceedingly well.
I loved her characters. Gus is intelligent, burning with a zeal to inform about his religion, and still able to remain practical and humorously aware that others might not see it as he does. When the character gets on his “soapbox,” Gus (and the author) are quick to acknowledge that they are doing so. That’s a lovely element and one that continues throughout the story. Niall is a private detective with an open mind, a vet whose past experiences combine with a need to help others. His is a character that reveals more and more layers as the investigation starts to go awry and more people are killed.
We also meet other members of the Wiccan community, ones like Juliette, head witch of her own coven. Laine creates lovely, realistic people for her story. I suspect that these people will pop up again as The Wheel Mysteries continues and I can’t wait for those new stories to arrive.
If I had a quibble, it would be with just one aspect of the mystery. The part where the reader will want to shout out “no…..don’t go there……”. I still can’t make up my mind if it is in keeping with the character’s impulses or just a too formulaic part of the mystery. Did it keep me from going a little crazy over what happens next? No, it did not. There are still plenty of gut wrenching roller coaster moments to come!
So bring on the next mystery. I can’t wait to see what happens next to Gus and Niall. I absolutely recommend this to romance and mystery lovers alike.
Cover art by Brooke Albrecht is terrific and works perfectly for the story.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.