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Murder in C Major

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Two and one half moon gifPoisoned Pen Press (Trade Paperback), ISBN 1890208310
I admit to a bias against sweet, untarnished, angelic protagonists. Give me flawed heroines and sleuths. Thus, when I began reading Sara Hoskinson Frommer's Murder in C Major I almost gagged at sweet, sweet, sweet minister's widow and vulnerable, victimized, single mother Joan Spencer.

Book: Sara Hoskinson Frommer, Murder in C MajorYet, I adore music and making music. With the title Murder in C Major, I looked forward to a trip into the musical world. After all, Joan joined the little Oliver, Ind., symphony orchestra to win friends and renew childhood relationships. But I quickly realized music wouldn't take center stage in this paperback reissue of Frommer's first Joan Spencer mystery.

In this series opener, the young widow flees her past to settle in the safe, Midwestern community of Oliver, scene of some of Joan's fondest childhood memories. Joan prepares to start a new life for herself and her teenage son Andrew. She dusts off her viola and joins the small community's symphony. Andrew begins classes at the local college.

Joan's first evening with the symphony introduces her to the talented oboe section -- the handsome and successful Sam Wade and the abrasive boorish George Petris. But Joan barely learns to dislike George before he gasps his last.

Book: Sara Hoskinson Frommer, The Fanishing ViolinistDespite the murder, the Spencer family continues to acclimate. Andrew settles into his role as college student and becomes fascinated with biological research. Joan lands a job as senior center director where the elderly members adore her. She also accepts the title of conductor's assistant and the tasks associated with the title.

When the second musician dies, Joan takes her conductor's assistant responsibilities to a new level and shoulders the burden to solve the crimes. Police lieutenant Fred Lundquist first interrogates Joan, then surprisingly enlists her help with the case. Together they solve the crimes and, in between clues, tentatively explore the opening chords of a meaningful relationship.

Frommer's chatty style reveals clues at a leisurely poco a poco (little by little) tempo rather than rushing readers in a frenzied vivace pace. She strives for unique murder methods and surprising villains that may keep readers guessing until the book's final pages.

By book's end, Joan Spencer's sugary sweetness developed into a more palatable treat, and I caught myself wondering what lay ahead for Joan in the next book of the series. Murder in C Major may not be a symphony, but Frommer does write a cozy little ditty that hums along to a satisfying ending.

Dawn Goldsmith

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Click here to read the Crescent Blues review of Frommer's The Vanishing Violinist.