Sentenced to Death is the latest book in Lorna Barrett's Booktown Mysteries series. the premise of the series is that a failing New England town has rebuilt it's main street and brought in specialty booksellers to line the streets (leading to the phrase that compelled me to read the first book: "Stoneham, where the streets are lined with bookstores and paved with murder!"). Now Tricia, the owner of the Mystery/Thriller shop, is also the resident sleuth, and the bodies of other shop-owners are piling up around her. Early in the series, Tricia's difficult, glamorous sister arrives in town, opens an eatery and later takes over the cook book shop as well. (Of course, because the previous owner was murdered!)
In Sentenced to Death, the Stoneham Founder's Day celebration is cut short when a small plane crashes into the stage killing the pilot and the events organizer. Tricia is convinced there's more to the tragedy than pilot error, but no one will believe her and she's forced to prove it herself. Meanwhile, a big company has been buying up stores on the street, and Tricia's assistant may soon be leaving her to run a store of her own.
Characters: B Tricia is an effective sleuth, even if she makes some very dangerous decisions that feel somewhat out-of-character. While Tricia's two shop assistants and her sister are strong supporting characters, the rest of the Stoneham residents are fairly flat props for the story line.
Plot: C+ While Barrett never strays too far from traditional mystery storylines, this book's premise feels like it was dredged from the file of stock murder plots. The aging, infirm pilot with a perfect flying record may have deliberately crashed his plane to keep his family taken care of. Like the festival organizer should have seen the plane spiralling to hit her, the readers can probably see this plot resolution coming. At the same time, Barrett's even-handed writing and well-placed red herrings make getting to the inevitable conclusion entertaining.
Romance: B I have always enjoyed the way Tricia keeps her few love interests at arm's length. (To be fair, I have to mention that the obligatory romance is my least favorite part of the cozy genre.) Ginny, the young assistant has had a few tumultuous romances that added flair to this and past installments. Sadly, Tricia's sister continues her ill-advised "romance" with the slick and somewhat shady real-estate agent in Stoneham and while each book presents her with a host of reasons to dump the chump, only in the most recent book does she seem to feel that it might be time to consider freeing herself from this loser. In this reader's opinion, Bob needs to go. Perhaps as the next book's victim?
Accuracy: B+ Barrett's portrayal of Haven't Got a Clue (Tricia's shop) belies some actual bookstore experience. While a store like this one probably wouldn't have the money or need for a three person staff much of the time, the fact that they are always shelving, cleaning and ordering books shows that Tricia is a competent boss and shop owner. In contrast, Tricia's sister (who is often there simply to move along plot points) seems to run both a diner and a cook book and cooking supply shop without ever actually being in either place (she's also writing a cook book series). While she is in most scenes that take place in her own eatery, she always seems to be there eating or complaining about her staff.