Friday, March 4, 2022

Madelyn Alt - A Charmed Death

Maggie O'Neill was just a small-town girl, stuck in a dead-end job--until she started working atEnchantments, Stony Mill's finest mystical antique shop.
Now Maggie is Indiana's newest witch. Learning to cope with her newfound powers is tough enough, but add to that keeping the stock at Enchantments organized and remembering to tape reruns of her favorite show, Magnum, P.I., and Maggie's got a full plate.
But when she witnesses an altercation between a local teenage princess, and another customer in Enchantments--and later the girl turns up dead--she feels compelled to investigate. Though the police are at a loss, Maggie has some tricks up her sleeve, or to be more specific, some spells, charms, and mystical intuitions. And with the help of her boss (and favorite witch) Felicity Dow, Maggie is spellbound and determined to get to the bottom of this murder.

Comment: This is the second book in the Bewitching Mystery series by author Madelyn Alt. I've read the first one back in 2018 and while it wasn't a great story, I didn't fully dislike it either. That's why I still kept the books by her I had to read and this month I finally got on with the next one in the series.

In this second story, we keep following narrator Maggie as she goes on with her life, having discovered she has some kind of magical ability, even though she still feels very awkward and unsure of what she is supposed to do. Her life is quiet and predictable, according to her family but Maggie likes the somewhat distance with her parents and sister, whom always seemed to make her feel she couldn't truly measure up. She now has a job she takes pleasure in, and she is friends with some people who don't bring her down but, of course, life isn't easy and when a teenager is found dead, everyone is talking about it. Maggie can't help thinking something weird happened, especially because the dead teenager had been in the store where Maggie works and she spent a lot of money. Since she can't let it go, Maggie decides to do some investigation...

Although plots in cozy mysteries always seem too perfectly structured too be realistic, there is something about the idea of the quiet pace of life, the notion one might be friends with neighbors and that there is always something positive about predictability, that makes the idea feel calming on itself. I identify a little with these types of stories because I, too, like a quiet life and the fact there isn't a lot to surprise me makes me feel safer, more in control... plus, cozy mysteries always have simpler plots and situations, unlike the big dramas in general mystery.

Maggie seems to have more stability now in her life and she likes what she does but another crime happens and she can't help be in the middle of it, especially since a big clue was the purchase the teenager did before she died, paying with a lot of money and that intrigued Maggie. I think the whole atmosphere was very well set, in particular the fact teenager Amanda, the murdered character, wasn't very well liked. I think the author nailed it when she created a character any student would recognize, the so-called popular girl who humiliates others and which everyone still wants to friends with anyway. 

However, the fact this is a cozy mystery means we don't really have a lot of character background and development besides the basic. Even Maggie, as protagonist, doesn't seem to reveal as much about herself as we would like, making her seem rather bland at times. The secondary characters are more interesting overall, simply because they have to maintain a certain mystery about them, which makes some plot choices (whether in this one or in following books) more likely...after all, how well do we really know one of them? On the other side of things, most of them do feel like they don't really have a strong personality...

The plot is centered on the investigation of Amanda's murder and why she would even be a victim but as the story develops, we learn about the world of blogs and secret messages and the sort of secret life teenagers have. This has been seen in so many levels, in other genres too, so it isn't any shock to find just how deceptive Amanda was but, at the same time, some of the details mentioned made me wonder when exactly was this story taking place.

The book was released in 2006 and cell phones certainly existed but in this book Maggie talks about emails and internet use and other things as if this is all new. I must have not paid attention in the first book but this surprised me a lot, because surely some things in the investigation would have been done using more technology. Until some point, I just figured the idea was to keep up with the notion this was small town and things are often slower paced in such places...
I was also a little disappointed with the paranormal aspects, I felt they weren't really developed either, considering how important they were for Maggie in the last book. She still does experiments but this really feels like it's only useful once or twice when the plot demands it.

The resolution of the crime happens with a little good will on our part to accept one or two coincidences which make the solution obvious. I think the whole plot was well thought, certainly, but to be honest it all felt very amateurishly developed by the author for it was clear she didn't intend to explain the psychological aspect of why the characters involved in the crime behaved the way they did. Allusions are made and one or two words are explicit but this being a cozy mystery with things kept quiet, some details felt under done, lacking explanation and depth.

All in all, I still liked it better than the first and will definitely read the next one at some point. Just a note that the romance sub plot remains unsolved and without much progression.
Grade: 7/10

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