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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on August 3, 2002
OK, so the title of my review doesn't make you think this book is going to be any good. It was hard to rate. Up front I have to warn you: The plot is contrived; The dialogue gets on your nerves; and The writing is clumsy. BUT . . .
Hang in there, read this one, then sit back and enjoy the ride!!! In all honesty it was very difficult to get through this first book in the Benni Harper series. Despite all the negative things I mentioned, I got through the book and started the second (Irish Chain) and immediately picked up the third (Kansas Troubles)and have just finished the fourth (Goose In the Pond) after a marathon, all-night reading session. There was something about the budding relationship of Benni Harper and Gabe Ortiz that made me continue reading, and I'm glad I did. The writing gets better, the mysteries get better and the romance gets hotter and stronger. Right now I can hardly wait to start on the next book and I won't/can't stop until I catch up to the 9th book and current installment, Steps to the Alter. I'm not even thinking about what I will do when I finish that one and need to wait months for the next one!
I'd strongly urge you to give this series a chance. You don't have to be a quilter to enjoy the books, but the author's use of quilt patterns is really clever. Anyway, hang in there, the adventures of Benni and Gabe get better and remember it had to start somewhere!
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Benni Harper is trying to put her life back together. It's been nine months since her husband died. Recently, she's moved into the town of San Celina and taken a job at the local artist co-op running the folk art museum, a job she's perfect for. But then she finds one of the artists stabbed in the woodshop. Since her cousin was seen fleeing the scene, she gets involved trying to find out what happened. The stakes are raised when a second body is found. Still trying to figure out her relationship with the temporary police chief, she plunges on, learning secrets she didn't want to know. But can she find the killer before the killer makes her the next target?
What struck me most about this book was the characters. Benni and police chief Gabe Ortiz jump off the page as fully realized characters. I feel like I've known them for several books instead of just one. Even the supporting characters are well developed. The mystery itself is good, with some unexpected twists. The writing style feels like that of a polished professional. It's hard to believe this is a first novel.
This is the first in the Benni Harper series, and I look forward to reading the others. If you enjoy a well-written mystery with fresh, three dimensional characters, this is the book for you.
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on August 27, 1998
I prefer English mystry writers, although there are some good American ones - Mary Robert Rienhart for one. However, this book provided me to chance to look at a part of the country I have not visited. I enjoyed learning about the west and its customs. I felt that it was too predicitable to have Bennie become involved with Sherrif Oritz. I would have preferred her to develop as an independent, single woman capable of developing a life of her own with out the dependence on a man. There should be more single, strong, independent women in mysteries and novels to provide role models for our younger generation of women. I am not saying she shouldn't have a male companion, but this plot moved too fast into a romantic relationship after only 9 months of widowhood. I would have preferred Bennie to discover more about herself before committing to an involvement. I will read another of the books to see if the characterization and interactions between characters improves.
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on March 14, 1998
I obtained Ms. Fowler's second book, Irish Chain, through the Mystery Guild. I loved it! When I found out that there was a first, I haunted my local used book store until I came across it. I definitely wanted to know what happened in the first book. I think Benni is great, and I like the story line with her romance and new marriage to Gabe. Of course I'm crazy about the mystery plots and the writing. I really enjoy sitting down and following the fun characters. I like the setting of the Central California coast, I place that I find truely beautiful. I appreciated Ms. Fowler even more when I found out that she is from my neck of the woods, Southern California. I was born and raised in Santa Ana, which is just down the road from her home in Fountain Valley. I think it would be great fun if she were to write a little something that takes place in Orange County. How 'bout a mystery set at South Coast Plaza? Anyway, I am enjoying the series greatly, and recommend them to all!
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on May 16, 2002
The best part of this book is that it's titled in honor of my favorite quilting pattern. This is a competent mystery of an amateur detective in a specialized field (quilting). There are two things that ruin the book for me.
The first is that the heroine is such a fool. I expect amateur detectives to display a modicum of sense and know when to call the police, but she keeps doing obviously dangerous things. If someone told her that there was an axe murderer in the basement, she'd probably go down unarmed and alone to check. There just doesn't seem to be any compelling reason for her to become so involved.
The second is that Fowler's idea of plotting includes lots of pointless bickering between the two main characters. I don't think it's romantic or amusing and I don't like reading it any more than I enjoy listening to it in real life. I use the same strategy in both cases: I go elsewhere.
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on July 9, 1999
Meet Benni, sort of the 90s, west coast, grown up Nancy Drew. Her chum Alvia is an independent book seller. Her husband's cow punching family is worthy of an Anne Tyler novel. Her trusty roadster is a pickup. And we sense the Nancy Drew propensity to rush in and sustain innumerable blows to the head. Will this girl always beat the cops to the punch and be neatly rescued by her man? But I loved Nancy Drew, and I love Benni. Benni's battle with grief over her husband's death rings true and gives depth to the character. If you can't take a trip to the California coast this summer, a Benni Harper Mystery will give you the same feel. The book artfully brings to life a small town with a compatible mix of ranchers, working artists, and the coffeehouse chic set interlaced with Latino and cop culture. And as in all small town mysteries, you just never know who will snap. Earlene, you go girl!
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on July 11, 1998
benni harper is an engaging new heroine, and there's actually chemistry (!) between her and gabe ortiz, the new sheriff. she's a courageous, recently widowed former ranch wife, feeling a little dazed and overwhelmed by her new status, trying to throw herself into her new job and pretending to be okay... until a dead body turns up. gabe the sheriff is interested in her on more than one level, and his macho attitude rings true. the scene at Liddy's is sad and sweet, and the book has a satisfying resolution - all in all, a great book. dove brings the right note of practicality and familial love to the book, showing us where benni got her resilience and self-sufficiency, a combination more attractive than a designer wardrobe and super-model looks. start with fool's puzzle, and read the series.
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on August 11, 1998
This book has everything I like in a great story - humor, intrigue, romance and suspence. I am a quilter and collector of fine art and about her age so I feel a kinship to Benni, although I'm not as mouthy as she is. Benni's Grandma Dove is so funny, I laughed out loud while I was reading (which I seldom do when I'm reading). How can you not love this feisty woman who definitely speaks her mind. Gabe Ortiz, who wouldn't love this blue-eyed hunk who likes to whisper Spanish words in Benni's ear. It's so easy to fall in love with him. Too bad he's just a character in a book! Once I started reading this book I couldn't put the book down. Congratulations Earlene Fowler, you have written a great book and I can't wait to read Irish Chain and the rest of the series!!
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on June 30, 2002
This story crosses several different paths. There's the quilting interest, because the main character, Benni Harper is the curator of a small folk-art museum in California. In fact, the story starts with Benni getting ready to have a quilt show. The mystery comes in when Benni discovers the body of a local artist in the museum. Finally, a little romance is provided by the attractive detective who's investigating the murder. He's Police Chief Gabe Ortiz and seems to have more than a little interest in the curator. We also meet Benni's grandmother who adds the humorous touch to the story.
Earlene Fowler has made her characters into real personalities and provides us with a fun and enjoyable read. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series.
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on August 2, 2001
I have tried so hard to like this series. I really like the quilting connection, the quirky characters and the setting. My big problem is that I don't like the main character. She is defensive and reacts like a rebelling teenager a good portion of the time. I also can't figure out why she gets involved in the murders. In other series I have enjoyed, the main character gets involved because she is pulled into the mystery, a student confides in her, a loved one disappears, etc... However, Benni just seems to be noisy (and not in a charming way). She doesn't give the police a chance to work with her and the sexual tension between her and the chief of police is creepy, not romantic.
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