Saturday, October 28, 2023

Nothing Scary About How Fun Murder at the Pumpkin Pageant Is

Scott D. Parker

The hallmark of a good cozy mystery series is whether or not you’d want to live in the town with the characters that populate the book…despite all the murders. When it comes to Beacon Harbor, Michigan, this Houstonian gives a resounding yes.

The residents of Beacon Harbor are seen through the eyes of Lindsey Bakewell (yeah, that’s her name), a woman who moved back to her hometown, took up residence in a haunted lighthouse, and opened a bakeshop in that same building. I first read about these folks a couple of years ago in Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop, the first of the series. Pumpkin Pageant is the fourth book and, having enjoyed a seasonal Halloween-based mystery from Leslie Meier, I wanted to find another cozy centered on Halloween.

This novel opens the day before Halloween as the town prepares for the annual Pumpkin Pageant where dogs and their humans compete in a costume contest. Lindsey herself dreads the approaching spooky holiday. You see, some teenagers have been hanging scary decorations at the lighthouse. The goal is twofold: bring a sense of dread to the decidedly lighthearted decorations Lindsey puts up and hope to catch a glimpse of the ghost.

In an effort to out the perpetrators, Lindsey sponsors a pumpkin carving event and invites all the high schoolers. Lindsey befriends the teacher as well, and marvels how the educator can see the good in the kids.

Meanwhile, Lindsey’s bestie, Kennedy Kapoor, an online influencer, has invited the crew from a cable TV ghost hunter show to conduct an investigation of the lighthouse…on Halloween night. And it’s going to be live streamed. Lindsey isn’t too excited, but allows it. The broadcast goes by without much drama until something happens inside the lighthouse that sends Kennedy running outside. She’s scared of something inside, but what she finds outside is worse. A corpse hanging from one of the trees outside the lighthouse.

I’m not a cozy expert (but I’m getting there). I only started reading them in 2021 when I joined Murder by the Book’s Cozy Mystery subscription service, but the books I’ve read by Darci Hannah are the literary equivalent to the delightful baked goods Lindsey prepares in her bakeshop. As before, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Amy Melissa Bentley who does a wonderful with the different characters, especially Kennedy and her British accent. In fact, Kennedy is very much a co-star is this book. Her relationship with Lindsey is the kind you hope you have in your life, and her pseudo rivalry with Rory Campbell, Lindsey’s boyfriend, is just plain fun.

Like any good mystery, the suspect list is pretty decent and the trials and tribulations and baked treats the characters go through is fun. There are some genuinely harrowing moments as we hurtle to the ending, but it just helps the character development.

Reading Murder at the Pumpkin Pageant helps to remind me just how much I enjoy this small Michigan town and the people in it. And, in reviewing the other two books already published, I see that there is a Christmas installment. And Christmas Reading Season begins in just a few days.

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