REVIEW: Home for a Spell

Note: This review originally appeared in The Season E-Zine's January mystery section.

Home for Spell by Madelyn Alt
Berkley Prime Crime, January 2011

Rating: 9 (Excellent) (The Season's rating scale runs from 1 to 10.)

For fans of: Wendy Lyn Watson and Victoria Laurie

It's been a rough couple of months for fledgling empath and mystical-antiques-shop-employee Maggie O'Neill. Her employer and dear friend, Felicity Dow, was outed to the community as a practicing witch and is now being persecuted by the conservative residents of Stony Mill, Indiana. Her best friend of nineteen (and a half) years is getting married and moving away. And to top it all off, Maggie broke her ankle and is now on crutches, forcing her to move in with - and rely completely on - her brand-new boyfriend, Marcus Quinn. Marcus has been wonderful, but Maggie's concerned he's putting too much of his own life on hold in order to take care of her so, determined to become more independent, Maggie starts looking for an apartment that can accommodate both her cat and her crutches. She manages to score a great deal on a ground-level unit that's just a few blocks away, but when Marcus takes her to sign the lease, they find the apartment manager's office trashed - and the manager floating dead in the pool. Maggie senses something strange was going on at the apartment complex, but what? And is that something strange why the apartment manager was killed? Does Maggie have what it takes to help catch the killer before he or she strikes again?

I feel the need to start this review with a confession: I'm a huge fan of Madelyn Alt. Her Bewitching Mysteries are some of my very favorite reads, and I was over the moon when I was given the chance to review the seventh installment in the series, Home for a Spell. I know it's rarely a good idea to go into a book with such high expectations, but I'm delighted to report that Alt's latest doesn't disappoint.

Reading one of Madelyn Alt's books is like spending time in the company of a good friend. Her prose is witty yet comfortable, her dialogue is natural and funny, and her characters are so perfectly developed you finish the story feeling like you know them personally. Maggie makes for a winsome heroine and an engaging narrator. Her boss and confidante, Felicity "Liss" Dow, is so warm and charismatic that you'll find yourself longing to quit your job and go work for her yourself. And Maggie's boyfriend, oh-so-sexy-bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-old Marcus Quinn is hands-down one of the best series love interests I've read to date.

The relationships Alt has created between her characters are marvelous, as well. The deep friendship between Maggie and Liss, the tender yet smoldering romance between Maggie and Marcus, Maggie's uneasy relationship with occult-adverse ex-boyfriend Tom - all are perfectly realized on the page.

The mystery in Home for a Spell is creepy, twisty, and expertly constructed. Granted, it's a bit smaller in scale than in some of Alt's previous novels, but that's not a bad thing. Because there isn't a huge cast of characters to keep track of and Maggie and Marcus are smack in the middle of everything that's happening, the book has a great sense of urgency and immediacy that makes the book difficult to put down (I should know - I read the entire thing in one sitting!).

The only reason I didn't give this book a Perfect Ten is that I wasn't entirely sure Alt earned her ending. Don't get me wrong - the climax of the book is fabulous and includes a twist I totally didn't see coming; when all was said and done, however, I felt that maybe the twist was just a tad too far out of left field. That's a minor criticism, however, and one that should not in any way discourage you from running right out and buying yourself a copy of Home for a Spell. I adored this book, and plan to heartily recommend it to all of my friends who are cozy readers. And while you're at it, do yourself a favor and pick up the rest of the books in Alt's Bewitching Mystery series -- I can't imagine many better ways to start the New Year.