Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Showstoppers / Helen Smith

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Mystery

Approximate word count: 17-18,000 words

Kindle US:
YES UK: YES Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


An award-winning playwright, poet, and novelist, Helen Smith has several traditionally published books that she has re-published as an Indie. One of these, Alison Wonderland, not only had a second life, but in some ways a third life, when it was published again by Amazon’s Encore imprint. Her Emily Castles mystery series is a series of novelette length cozy mysteries Smith is publishing as an Indie. The initial book in the series, Three Sisters, was among the first I reviewed on this blog. For more about Smith, visit her blog.


Emily’s neighbor, Victoria, is receiving threatening notes that eventually escalate into a murder at her school for future stars of stage and screen.


The cozy mystery is a sub-genre I couldn’t have defined or even known had I seen it. Luckily Wikipedia purports to answer all my questions. Among other things, Wikipedia says cozy mysteries are built around the inhabitants of a small, insular community (a London neighborhood in this case), with characters that are often eccentric and provide comic relief. The emphasis is on puzzle solving, with the protagonist using their intelligence and knowledge of the community dynamics to solve the mystery. Examples of the genre given included Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books and the American television series, Murder, She Wrote.

Having read several of Helen Smith’s books, it struck me how well the cozy mystery sub-genre plays to her strengths as a writer. Her prose is comfortable (dare I say cozy?) while still feeling more literary than a typical genre book. Her books are full of humor, but it is subtle — if you aren’t paying attention, it will fly past and you’ll miss it. More Woody Allen or Steven Wright than Mel Brooks or Benny Hill. More intellectual (or assuming intelligence on the part of the reader) than slapstick.

If I had any complaint with Three Sisters, the first book in this series, it would be that I was well into the book before finding out what the “mystery” was. This isn’t an issue with Showstoppers, as we find out about the mystery (or at least the initial mystery) early on. As Emily works toward the solution, we meet plenty of those quirky characters and Smith gives us numerous puzzle pieces to decipher along with Emily.


Smith is English and uses UK spelling conventions and slang.

Although part of a series, this book can be read as a standalone. It does not require knowledge from the first book to follow the story in the second.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars


Unknown said...

Thanks for the review, Al.

Vicki said...

Another book for my TBR pile! Must read faster... must read faster... must read faster...

All the best for the festive season, Helen and BigAl.


Unknown said...

Thanks, Vicki! All the best to you, too.