A cozy mystery about cozy mystery writers

Book Fair and Foul

(An Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery #4)

by Erika Chase

The members of the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society are all chipping in as Molly Mathews, now owner of the bookstore the Book Nook, prepares the first annual Mystery Book Fair. While gossip circulates about the guest authors, club member Lizzie Turner is unpleasantly surprised to see a certain book publicist make an appearance. It seems Lizzie has a history with Ashley Dixon—a chapter of her life she’d rather leave closed.

But when someone gives Ashley a death sentence, Lizzie becomes the prime suspect in a murder mystery she can’t put down. Now Lizzie and her fellow book buffs have to read between the lines of the publicist’s past and catch the real killer before Lizzie is written off for good.

-via Goodreads
I picked up this book with several other cozy mysteries as research. I am working on a cozy mystery set in a bookstore because I gravitate toward that sub(sub?)-genre. Book Fair and Foul circles around a book club, one of whom owns a bookstore. Good enough for me to check out.
I had a hard time knowing who the protagonist was. I thought it was Molly Mathews who owns the bookstore. Then I realized it was Lizzie Turner, a literary instructor at the school and Molly’s friend. Maybe Lizzie is the protagonist in the other books in the series so this shouldn’t have been a surprise but it was tricky in the first scene set at a high tea with four female characters. I also presumed that the book club would be a large part of the story. There were a couple of scene with the members and an abbreviated “official” book club meeting scene in which they discuss the monthly book. There were references to other club members being suspects in murder cases. That could be what strings the series together. I’m not sure.
The bookstore is hosting a festival featuring four cozy mystery authors who are all staying at a local B&B. Several events are planned for them to read, interact with fans and sell books. A surprise guest arrives – Ashley Dixon, the publicist for the authors and a college roommate of Lizzie’s. There is bad blood between them and they eventually fight in public. Naturally, when Ashley turns up dead, Lizzie is the first suspect.
Lizzie suspended from her job pending the investigation which gives her time to conduct her own inquiries. She visits the authors often as they have been asked to stay in town. She tries to learn more about Ashley since she last knew her in college. All the while Lizzie must be careful – she is dating the police chief and the case must stay above board.
Book Fair and Foulkept the murder plot central while maintaining subplots specific to the book and the apparent larger subplots of the series (such as Lizzie’s romance). However, the subplot specific to the book doesn’t appear to tie into the main mystery. Lizzie helps a friend who is receiving mysterious threats. Nothing in that mystery ties in with Ashley’s murder, except maybe that secrets will out – but I’m not sure that was the point. It could have had a stronger influence on Lizzie’s personal quest to clear her name and solve Ashley’s murder.

I don’t think I’ll be going back to read other books in the series. I didn’t connect with Lizzie or the other characters. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. If nothing else, I’ve learned that I need to create characters that the audience will connect with. Knowing that is the easy part. Pulling it off is the mystery.

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