murder most actualRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Things haven’t been going well for Liza and her wife, Hanna. They have been fighting more often than not recently and their relationship has been strained. While she may have meant well, Hanna booking the two of them for a weekend in the remote Scottish Highlands without even talking to Liza doesn’t help much. The women still love one another, but everything is strained and awkward and pretending it’s not isn’t getting them anywhere. It’s not helped by the fact that the snow is coming down in heaps, cutting them off even more from the outside world, and leaving Liza and Hanna stuck with a group of not particularly likable fellow guests.

When one of those guests ends up falling to their death — or were they pushed? — Liza can’t help but be drawn in. She has a successful true crime podcast and she can’t stay away from a mystery. With the snow taking down the phone lines and the roads impassible, the authorities are not going to be able to get to them for days. So what’s the harm in a little digging? But when another body turns up… and another… and still more, it becomes increasingly clear that there is something sinister going on. But who would want to start killing the resort guests, and why? And what is the role of the mysterious crime lord who is supposedly at the hotel?

Liza can’t help her desire to dig into the mystery, even as Hanna reminds her that she is not actually a detective, and that she has no actual training or authority here. But with bodies piling up and no way to contact the outside world, Liza may just be their best bet to figure out what is really going on. And as much as things are tense with Liza and Hanna, the time together helps them both recognize how much they still love each other and want to be together. But someone is murdering hotel guests, and as Liza and Hanna get close to a killer, they may find themselves next.

Murder Most Actual is a really fun, clever, cozy mystery from author Alexis Hall. I found myself really caught up in the book and enjoying watching the twisty story unfold. The blurb notes that the book is “perfect for fans of Clue…” and this was one of my favorite aspects of the book, as there are so many amusing connections, some subtle and some more overt. For example, the chapters get Clue style titles, such as “Hanna, in the Car, with the Map.” There is a colonel, a professor, a mysterious lady in red named Ruby (a la Miss Scarlet), and more. There are also some cute little throw ins, like Liza looking around noting “There was the colonel, slathering mustard onto a Cumberland sausage. There was the professor, sipping coffee and picking a plum from the fruit bowl.” (References to the characters Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum, for those not familiar with the board game.) It is a bit of silly fun, but I found it entertaining to look for the little Easter eggs dropped here and there throughout the book.

This story is a sort of a mix of cozy mystery, with our intrepid amateur detective heroine leading the investigation, combined with an old fashioned, house party-style murder mystery. The group is trapped in this remote hotel with no cell service, no internet, and impassible roads. As they start getting picked off one by one, the mystery takes a lot of interesting twists and turns. Each time I thought I knew what was happening, things got switched around, yet it comes together satisfyingly in the end. Liza, while admittedly not a real detective, is clever and at times a little absurdly determined to stick her nose into things (as all the best amateur detectives in a cozy mystery tend to do) and I enjoyed her POV here.

At times, I found things got a bit too convoluted, especially the side plot involving this criminal mastermind who was lurking (at least according to some of the guests). And not everything always made sense to me. While I can believe a landline going out in the snow, it’s hard for me to believe this hotel functions with no internet at all in this modern era, not to mention no emergency backup for communication given their remote location. I also wondered from early on why no one seemed at all concerned about most of the hotel staff as they started listing suspects and planning defensive strategies. It does come up eventually in the book that no one has even considered the staff’s role in all this, and my guess it this was an intentional omission by the author to help control the number of characters readers had to manage. But even when everyone suddenly realizes they aren’t considering the staff in any part of this (as suspects, as potential victims, as people to help try to keep safe) not much actually changes. All that said, I found the mystery fun, twisty enough to keep me guessing, and well developed overall.

The relationship between Liza and Hanna is more in the background here and the romance is definitely secondary to the larger mystery plot. The women start out the book at odds and there is a lot of bickering and frustration as they fall into their usual patterns of relating to one another. The life-or-death situation in which they find themselves doesn’t help things. It seems clear Hanna and Liza have been having the same arguments and the same conflicts for a while now and nothing is really changing. And as much as they love each other, they are not sure they can make it better. So as the story continues, we see them slowly come to remember the things they appreciate most about each other, to notice what they admire and love about the woman they married. I liked that it felt more than suddenly realizing they love each other in the face of possible death. Instead, it felt more like this slowly growing awareness of all the things they appreciate about each other and remembering how good things can be between them. That said, I did wish for a little more focus on the relationship, a bit more conversation and a chance to see things more directly. I felt like a lot of this just sort of simmers in the background until there they are, happy again, and the romance reader in me wanted something a little more on page. But I enjoyed watching Liza and Hanna find their happiness together again.

Overall, I found this one an entertaining cozy mystery. There is a sense of humor to this story, even as things are dire and the bodies are piling up. And I enjoyed Liza as a POV character, and watching her and Hanna slowly find that connection they had lost. If you are looking for an enjoyable mystery, particularly one led by strong female MCs, check this one out.

P.S. This story is published as a Kobo Original and, as of now, appears to be only available through their store.

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