Maggie McConnon rings in Christmas in Bel, Book, and Scandal—the third adventure for everybody’s favorite Irish-American culinary artist turned amateur sleuth, Bel McGrath (available December 5, 2017).
Belfast McGrath is a no-nonsense kind of gal. Irish down to her dark red curls, she is a strong and more-than-capable protagonist. She is a chef, and her most comfortable moments are in the kitchen, to be sure, but her mind is constantly sleuthing. Add the element of her mystery—a missing childhood friend—and desire fuels her quest. She will stop at nothing to find her answers.
The McGrath’s are a tight-knit Irish family. There’s the Pilates-expert mother, the soft-hearted artist father, and a bevy of boisterous brothers. The setting is cozy and inviting with the Manor hosting several different events and always planning for more.
Bel, however, is a loner by heart, preferring to solve the mystery with the least amount of people helping her or sticking their noses in.
For right now, though, I was going it alone, setting out on a mysterious adventure that had room for only one traveler.
When Bel stumbles upon a picture of what was a nearby commune, she sees a beautiful young girl, a familiar face that opens up old wounds. She is sure it is a picture of her missing childhood friend Amy, and she can’t let go of the idea of finding out what happened to her once and for all. The commune, Love Canyon, has since been closed, but Bel ventures to Wooded Lake—where the commune once stood—to see what she can come up with.
“Love Canyon is something we’re all trying to forget,” he said.
“Why?” I asked. “It seemed like a hippie-dippie commune. From my research anyway.”
“Well, that’s one way to look at it, I guess,” he said. “It was a pretty interesting place, and not in a good way.”
“How so?” I asked.
He looked around, rubbed a hand, a workman’s hand, calloused and rough, over his face. “Listen, this was a nice little town. Off the grid. Under the radar. A place where you could play in the woods and be a kid. But then people started coming here, looking for something we didn’t have.”
While Bel is trying to solve the mystery of her friend, she is also grappling with finding her footing after a disastrous night at her posh job in the city that left her back at home nursing her wounds. She is struggling to fit back in at her family home, carve a semi-normal life, and move forward. Her love life is also something she must deal with, and with ex-boyfriends and an ex-fiancé ever-present, it only makes it that much harder.
Deep into the mystery, Bel postulates on the outcome of it all:
I thought of Amy, of our life before and my life after. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end with me bumbling around a dark lot and her out there, somewhere, maybe living a better life than I could ever imagine. This wasn’t the script. We would find out that she had died and we would move on. Or I would find her, happier than she ever been. But this wasn’t it, lies on top of lies, with no end in sight, no truth to be told.
This was the first book I have read in this series, and although Maggie McConnon drops hints at Bel's other adventures, she never goes too in depth with them or makes new readers feel lost. You definitely do not have to read the other books to enjoy this installment. This stands alone just fine.
Bel, Book, and Scandal was a fun and well thought out read that is sure to satisfy on a cold, wintery weekend.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.