Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery, Book 3 - Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna

Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax is back, and needless to say, wherever Ophelia Flax goes, Professor Penrose is sure to follow - as to dead bodies, fairy tale connections, and mysteries galore!  I have really grown to love this series - author Maia Chance has created some truly believable and fun to read characters, and while the stories are set in the second half of the 19th century Europe, Ophelia is a strong, independent woman - and instead of the woman chasing after the man, this series flips the standard trope around, with Professor Penrose chasing after her!

Continuing the tradition of fairy tales, Beauty, Best, and Belladonna obviously deals with the story of Beauty and the Beast.  The story picks up not long after the conclusion of Cinderella, Six Feet Under, where Ophelia makes the mistake of accepting Count Griffe's marriage proposal as a means of snubbing Professor Penrose, who she had erroneously thought was pursuing someone else.  She is ready to break off the engagement and return to her life as an actress - but she is coerced by Henrietta, her friend Pru's mother, who is determined to latch onto a man of means while visiting the Count's estate with Ophelia.  When Ophelia discovers that her savings is missing (stolen by the staff?), she has no choice but to postpone the breaking of her engagement and allow Henrietta to join her at the Count's winter hunting party for two weeks.

Upon their arrival (with Forthwith Golden along as well - "he adores blasting at beasts with guns"), things quickly get out of hand and go from mildly annoying to outrageously crazy - - as things tend to do wherever Ophelia goes. First, she finds that Penrose is a guest at the Count's estate, along with his fiance (!!!!) and her father.  Then, a stagecoach gets stranded during a snowstorm just outside the chateau, and the rag-tag band of travelers are forced to stay the night (and much longer, as it turns out).  In less than 24 hours, a murder occurs, and Ophelia finds herself once more drawn into the drama and suspense of searching for a killer (and watching as Penrose searches for the connection to the "real" tale of the beast and the beauty who tamed him).

Chance certainly kept me guessing throughout the story - something she is very good at with her mysteries.  My ideas of whodunnit continually shifted the deeper I got into the story.  And I have to wonder if there is any merit whatsoever to the so-called "truths" behind these fairy tales that Professor Penrose is continually chasing.  Has Chance done some in-depth research to find some long-forgotten histories behind the stories, or is it all simply the whimsical imaginations of her mind?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Sadly, this is another series that has reached its end.  I hope that's not the case, as I have grown to thoroughly enjoy these books (and looking back at the books I've read over the past year, there aren't too many adult mystery series I read that I can say that about).  But a check on Amazon and on the author's website does not give any indication that there is a fourth book in the works - in fact, it appears the author is starting up an entirely new series of books.  Of course, that's the way it always seems to go with a really good series - just when I've grown to love it and want more, it ends.

But, I would highly recommend the books to anyone who loves the whole "cozy mystery" genre, and even to those who don't.  The books need to be read in order, as they follow a definite timeline, but they are just as enjoyable on their own.

RATING:  10 gopher claw bushes out of 10 for giving me a great mystery that I couldn't solve within the first few chapters!

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