Book Review: Peg and Rose Solve a Murder by Laurien Berenson
It’s very easy to sell me on any book that has the premise of older women joining forces to solve crimes, and this series debut lives up to its potential in spades! Which is fitting, since our heroines—long-time nemeses who first appeared in Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis mystery series—originally team up because former nun Rose Donovan needs a partner for the bridge club she wants to join. She remembers her sister-in-law has previously mentioned playing the card game, and decides that there’s no one better to invite than a woman whom she knows also enjoys playing to win.
Peg Turnbull is understandably hesitant at first. To say she and Rose don’t get along is an understatement. Rose was not the most welcoming family member back when Peg and Max, Rose’s older brother, announced their engagement over four decades ago. Rose was, in fact, a breathtakingly awful young woman when Max first introduced them. But as Rose has gotten older, she’s mellowed considerably. Trouble is, repairing a relationship as poor as hers with Peg seems a formidable task at best, as Rose laments to her husband Peter:
“Peg and I are both grown women,” she said. “Adults in every sense of the word except when it comes to our relationship. Why is it so hard for us to move past something that happened more than forty years ago?”
“Because up until now, neither of you has really tried, have you?” Peter pointed out. “Sometimes there’s comfort in maintaining the status quo. Remaking your connection with Peg will involve throwing out old prejudices and preconceived notions. Change, even when it’s welcome, can be a complicated process.”
The women’s attempts at reconciling are sorely tested after their first visit to bridge club. While Peg can be overly assertive, Rose can be passive-aggressive, leading the two to butt heads as they discover they’re not as good at cards as they thought. But when one of their new club-mates is shot to death in his own home after an evening of bridge, the unlikely duo find themselves drawn together to solve the mystery of his murder. Peg’s directness and Rose’s milder, if no less determined, ways mesh beautifully when it comes to snooping around the surprisingly scandalous members of their new social circle. As the women slowly gain an appreciation for each other’s strengths, they begin to home in on what really happened to their dead acquaintance. Will their newly found teamwork come to a premature and grisly end, however, when a killer decides that they’re getting too close to the truth?
This is a wonderfully written cozy mystery, with punchy dialogue and excellent characterizations. The prickly relationship between our leads is both realistic and easy to root for as they slowly overcome decades of mutual disdain in the service not only of solving a murder but also in connecting with what little family they have left:
Family. This was the second time Rose had referenced that relationship. As if things were really that simple. Unfortunately, where the Turnbull family was concerned, complications had always been a way of life.
Peg’s heart squeezed painfully in her chest. Rose did have a point about losing loved ones, however. Peg hadn’t needed to reach the age of seventy-two before realizing that.
Still, she hated having to admit that Rose might be right about something.
In addition to being a terrific character study, this novel is a must-read for anyone who loves dogs. Peg raises Standard Poodles and is a judge on the dog show circuit, and there’s an important subplot here involving a puppy who needs to be lovingly retrained following an abusive upbringing. It’s also refreshing to read a cozy mystery where romantic angst doesn’t take center stage. While I do enjoy a romance subplot—and very much enjoyed the depiction of Rose’s relationship with her husband—I do like it when the realistic development of a friendship is given the attention it rightfully deserves.
Peg and Rose Solve a Murder really does have the sass of The Golden Girls mixed with the shenanigans of Murder, She Wrote, though with a lot more animal friends than either. I’m greatly looking forward to being charmed by more of Peg and Rose’s adventures together as this warm, witty series continues.