I felt rather like I was losing my new best friends as the book ended. I wanted to get in the car and go home with Jane and her friends. I miss them already, even the rowdy, energetic mischief maker dog Tillie. In other words, author Karwoski was successful in world building with, oh, so likable, relatable characters we'd all like to know even if, as one observed, this vacation week was a bit like living in a crime novel. The setting, the Gardens and Horses Resort, sounded enchanting and even though it's been years since I picked up a paint brush, I found myself jotting down some of the watercolor hints shared within.
Unfortunately, the friends' retreat begins with them stumbling cross a horse dead in a reflecting pool. To be honest, as a horse nut from way back, I almost passed up this book when this was mentioned in the blurb but am glad I didn't. Although saddening, with much more of the dark side of horse racing revealed as the book progressed, this scene was quickly lost in the rest of the action. A groom is found nearly drowned in a horse water trough, then one of the workshop attendees is found dead. Are the three scenes connected? Jane, who prides herself a bit on her orderliness, had already started a journal to help her sort out who was who among the workshop participants and slips into the mode of registering everything she observes or senses, too, sharing her notes with the police. I admired her ability to keep her head when the others were otherwise distracted, whether by flirtations or Donna's disturbing habit of fainting when stressed. There are multiple suspects, side stories, and red herrings, not to mention that the three events may or may not be related. In the process, however, the friends attend the painting sessions and it was fascinating to hear their virtual work being dissected with hints of how to create certain watercolor techniques or improve on others. They're being taught to see, really see, what is in front of them. If you're an artist, you'll find these sections fascinating, I'm sure.
As the friends observe, however, it's much easier to solve a mystery in a book than it is in real life. All have input and helpful observations, observations Jane carefully records and shares. Jane's growing fascination with solving the mystery, even to the point where she jots down the ABC's of detectives, ie assume nothing, believe no one, and check everything, seems to grow. Her friendship with Officer Goode was interesting and although they live in different areas, I'm hoping he'll pop up again in future books. It's always nice to see the police and amateur sleuth acting with mutual respect rather than the more usual conflict that so often pops up in mysteries.
Bottom line, if you haven't already guessed, I loved this book and was delighted to see a preview for the next in the series at the end. Phew, that relieves my fear this might be a one shot mystery from the author. I also appreciated the suggestions for Book Club discussions included. I think my favorite asked how their painting styles reflected personalities, which made me rethink the book a bit more. Lovely writing, lyrical at times, awash in painting references, and an intricate mystery all packaged with lovely watercolor paintings now awash in my mind's eye.
Thanks to #NetGalley and #BlackRoseWriting for inviting me to attend this lovely workshop with Jane, Donna, Grace, Pam, and Tillie. I'm looking forward to the next adventure. This one is a winner.