Sunday, June 19, 2011

Foul Play at the PTA by Laura Alden

book cover

Foul Play at the PTA
by Laura Alden

ISBN-13: 978-0-451-23408-7
Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Obsidian Mystery
Released: July 5, 2011

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
PTA meetings at Tarver Elementary School can get pretty heated. But after parent Sam Helmstetter is strangled in his car following a meeting, mom and PTA secretary Beth Kennedy and her best friend Marina fear there may be a cold-blooded killer in the group.

Meanwhile, rumors spread that Beth's newest employee at er children's bookstore is the murderer. Yvonne served time for a similar crime, but DNA evidence eventually proved her innocent. As the new PTA vice president organizes a boycott of the bookstore and the real killer roams the streets of Rynwood, Wisconsin, Beth realizes she'll need to stick her own neck out to catch an elusive strangler...

My Review:
Foul Play at the PTA is a cozy mystery. It's the second book in the series, but you don't need to read the first to understand this one. Some events from the first novel are spoiled, but not the mystery.

The characters were complex and varied, and Beth dealt with realistic struggles (financial worries, raising her kids, dealing with an ex-husband, etc.). However, the main character trait for Beth, Marina, and a few other characters was exaggerated to the edge of what was believable, probably to create humor. On the other hand, I normally wouldn't like or accept a mystery novel main character who was very non-confrontational and a chronic worrier, but I loved how Beth would stand up for what was right even when people tried to bully her out of it and she felt scared.

A mild level of suspense was created by the threat to Beth's business (and thus her much-needed income) and by a certain level of physical danger to the characters. I did not guess the whodunit. In a way, it wasn't guessable until near the very end, but I didn't guess right even once the characters were certain. Perhaps that's because they kept being certain about each latest suspect. Also, while I know people will kill for the stupidest reasons, I was never convinced that the motive would realistically result in a killing spree when whodunit could have skipped to the end intent without killing and had a much higher likelihood of succeeding.

This book almost hit a pet peeve when the characters delayed in calling the police when they knew whodunit and were in pursuit. It did hit a minor pet peeve in that two characters were seriously, er, ill, which provided a clue, but one of them suddenly showed no signs of illness (when it would have been inconvenient) and we never found out how the other one ultimately fared.

There was a brief Christian prayer at the Thanksgiving dinner. There was no sex. There were 10 uses of fake bad language. Overall, the mystery was engaging and interesting even if it didn't strike me as particularly realistic.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
"You've got to get rid of her."

I ignored my best friend. Once again, she was trying to arrange my life for me, and I was much more interested in planning the Thanksgiving menu. Maybe I could swap the butter-laden, sugar-saturated squash for a simple broiled version. But the sugared version was the only kind of squash that Jenna, my eleven-year-old daughter, would eat.

"Beth, are you listening to me?" Marina scrubbed at her temples, frizzling her light red hair. "When was the last time Marcia was worth what you're paying her? It's time for her to go."

"Um." What I really wanted to put on the menu was a platter of cute little Cornish hens instead of a monstrous hormone-laden turkey, but that wouldn't fly with my family. "It won't fly," I murmured, and chuckled at my own stupid joke.

"This isn't funny." Marina waggled plump fingers at me. "Hey, pay attention. What are you doing over there, anyway? Tell me you're not making a list."

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