mystery magnet coverRating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel


Dashiell Dawson Dane has moved across the country to the small coastal Oregon town of Hastings Rock. Dash is looking for a fresh start after his breakup with his ex and hopes a change of location will help shake up his writer’s block. Dash is applying for a job with renowned mystery author, Vivienne Carver, working as her assistant in her mansion, Hemlock House. Dash knows that Vivienne is mostly hiring him as a favor to his parents, who are also successful mystery authors, but he is happy to have the job and a new place to live.

All that is shattered when Vivienne is murdered Dash’s first night at Hemlock House. And things get even worse when the cops have reason to suspect that Dash is the killer. As the new guy in town, Dash knows he is everyone’s prime suspect. And when another murder occurs, the spotlight shines on him even more firmly. Dash has always loved a mystery, and now he finds himself right in the middle of one. Now, with the help of some new friends, Dash is determined to find the killer and prove his innocence.

Mystery Magnet is the first book in Gregory Ashe’s new cozy mystery series, The Last Picks. I am a big fan of Ashe’s writing, so I was really excited to check out his foray into the cozy genre. Just to be clear, this is definitely a different style and tone than many of Ashe’s other mystery/suspense books and this story is about as far as you can get from something like Hazard and Somerset. Personally, I really loved the way this book takes Ashe’s strengths as a mystery writer and puts them to use in a softer story that is light and fun and less intense than some of his other work. There is a great playfulness here, with a dose of humor and a touch of absurdity to some of these folks that works well with the larger mystery.

Dash is sort of running from his life and ends up across the country in Oregon. He knows this job with Vivienne is basically friend nepotism, as his parents are her colleagues, but he doesn’t care. Vivienne is kind of his hero, as an acclaimed mystery writer, while Dash is struggling with his own work. So this is a chance to maybe break his writer’s block and work with someone well skilled. His parents are also famous writers, but basically have zero time or interest in him. But growing up with folks who spend all their time talking the best ways to kill someone and how investigations should work has given Dash the skills he needs to do a little investigating of his own when Vivienne is killed and he is the prime suspect. The mystery is twisty and engaging, with an ending I didn’t see coming, but made sense in hindsight. Maybe a little over the top, but it worked for me.

While Dash is our POV character and the story’s lead, he is joined by four folks who are connected to Hemlock House: Indira, the cook; Fox, an artist doing work for Vivienne; Millie, an assistant; and Keme, a boy in his upper teens. The four of them help out in the investigation and a friendship grows among them. They are the “last picks” of the series title, a group of folks who are always the last ones chosen, the sort of unwanted leftovers. The group adds a nice element to Dash’s investigation, as they are a source for him to share ideas and help him hunt down information, as well as adding hijinks and some comic relief.

The biggest source of humor is Millie, who is this overenthusiastic ray of sunshine with zero indoor voice and no boundaries. She is overwhelming at times, and I occasionally found her too far on the absurd side. But Ashe uses her to good effect here as a character. There is one scene I particularly loved, as Fox and Dash are sneaking into one of Vivienne’s rooms for clues and Indira and Millie are distracting the deputies who are in the house investigating. As we are in this intense scene of Fox and Dash frantically searching and trying not to get caught, we periodically cut to hearing Millie distracting the police down the hall, saying things like “And that was the THIRD time I broke my arm! The FOURTH time –“. So I found her fun and I liked the lighthearted style of the story, but I think some of your feelings about this book are going to rest on your thoughts about Millie and whether you find her endearing or annoying.

Dash is also an interesting character. He is clearly smart and very on top of things when it comes to investigating, but also comes across a little hapless and not quite able to get it together during regular life. This scene made me laugh, and very much encapsulates Dash.

Fox wrinkled their nose, but they stopped what they’d been about to say. “You want to figure out who really killed Vivienne so that you’re off the hook. Yeah, we get it.”

“Uh,” I said, “not to sound rude, but you don’t think I killed her?”

“Oh God no,” Millie said. “You almost fainted when you had to decide what milk you wanted in your coffee.”

As the story continues, though, we see Dash gain confidence and come into his own, so there is some nice character growth.

Just as another FYI, this story only just starts tiptoeing into the romance side of things. Dash meets “Deputy Bobby,” one of the cops on the investigation, and they start to form a friendship and a teeny bit of flirtation. As they talk about their various relationships, we get hints it may not be all rosy on the home front for Bobby and his boyfriend, but nothing happens here in this story between Dash and Bobby. Like I said, it’s the faintest blush of a possible romance on the horizon, though I assume things will develop further in future books.

I do think there are elements that Ashe just doesn’t really develop here, particularly with regard to the various characters. The most noticeable thing for me was that I finished the story with no idea how old Dash is supposed to be. We know he’s over 25 based on a comment he makes, and going by the ages of other characters, I’m guessing under 40. But we aren’t told (unless I totally missed it) and he reads very young due to his personality (at times he almost seems college aged and I had to remind myself he old enough to be a professor). But other things are also never explained, like who Keme is and how he is connected to Hemlock House. The story alludes to him having a bad home life, but is he just hanging out there all the time because Indira looks out for him? And we are told Vivienne doesn’t like Keme being around and there is a conflict that arises as a result, but we are never told why she has a problem with him. I was also unclear what Fox was actually doing at the house. We are told by Vivienne he is doing “something with the wallpaper” in a vague way. But is she his patron? Is he just hired to do this wallpaper job, whatever it is? (And if so, why does Vivienne have no idea what he does for her?) It felt out of character for Vivienne to just have this random artist working for her with no idea what he does, so I was expecting some backstory or explanation there that never comes. Maybe we will learn more in future books, but it felt like more should have been explained here.

Overall, I found this one a really fun story and it just clicked for me so well. I am looking forward to going on this cozy mystery journey with Ashe and am excited for more installments.
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