A Review of the SANTA FE REVIVAL MYSTERY SERIES by Amanda Allen

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SANTA FE MOURNING by Amanda Allen is the first novel in the Santa Fe Revival Mystery Series. The novel was published on March 13th 2018 by Crooked Lane Books.

SANTA FE MOURNING introduces the reader to Madeline Vaughn-Alwin. After her husband was killed in The Great War, Maddie left her wealthy family in New York City and moved to the budding artist society in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she focuses on healing, painting, and beginning a new life. Maddie hires the Anaya family to help her out around her house. Tragedy strikes Maddie’s new home when Tomas Anaya, is found murdered in the alley behind a local speakeasy. The police show little interest in the murder of a local Native American and possible smuggler of illegal alcohol and drugs, and they arrest Tomas’s son and basically close their case. Maddie’s quest to prove Eddie’s innocence takes her into Santa Fe’s criminal underground of smuggling, speakeasies, brothels, and secret tunnels.

The two things that really appealed to me about SANTA FE MOURNING was the location and the time period – Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the Roaring 20s. Allen included a lot of period details, including the slang, people, and locations. The smuggling of illicit alcohol and drugs was a very interesting element. This is the first time I’ve read a novel about bootlegging and smuggling in the southwest, and I found it to be intriguing. I was also fascinated that Maddie’s character was an artist, but I felt that there wasn’t enough included about the up-and-coming artist movement that was taking place in Santa Fe during the 1920s. I also wasn’t that big of a fan of Maddie. Yes, she had a reason to get involved in finding the killer – the victim was Maddie’s housekeeper’s husband, and the police arrested the housekeeper’s son for the murder. Basically Maddie was just a bumbling amateur detective who did too many unbelievable and stupid things to be taken seriously. Maddie’s character was pretty well developed, but the others were mostly 2-Dimensional stock characters. There was a lot of telling, and not enough showing. The mystery, while interesting, wasn’t very well-constructed, and I had the killer pegged from his first appearance.

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A MOMENT IN CRIME by Amanda Allen is the second novel in the Santa Fe Revival Mystery Series. The novel is due to be published on December 11th 2018 by Crooked Lane Books.

A MOMENT IN CRIME picks up directly where SANTA FE MOURNING left off. Maddie Vaughn-Alwin is attending an art show when her cousin, Gwendolyn Astor, stumbles in and begs Maddie to help her get out of trouble. The last time Maddie saw her cousin was a few years earlier when they were traveling cross-country to California. Maddie never made it to their final destination. Instead, she stayed in Santa Fe and left Gwen to travel the rest of the way alone. In Los Angeles, Gwen set her sights on becoming an actress in the silent films during what is known as the golden age of cinema. Now, Gwen is in Santa Fe to act in a movie that is being filmed outside of town. And she needs Maddie’s help to deal with the overbearing, blackmailing director. When Luther Bishop is murdered on set, Gwen becomes the police’s number one suspect due to her torrid affair with the man. Maddie refuses to believe that her cousin is a murderer, so she delves deeper into the director’s life and learns that he had a long list of enemies that could have killed him. With a slew of suspects, Maddie must find the one who called the final cut on the director’s life.

While I love the setting and time period of the novel – Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the Roaring 20s – I’m not a huge fan of Maddie. She steals evidence from the crime scene, but never turns any of it over to the police. She also learns about various motives that different suspects had to kill the victim, but she doesn’t share this information with the police. Maddie is even threatened by the killer, but she doesn’t tell anyone about that either. It was also a little too unbelievable that Maddie just happened to be given a job as artistic director on set, and is then able to snoop around the set/crime scene at her leisure. Not only did Maddie conveniently get a job on set, she also got a job as wardrobe assistant for her housekeeper. The “best buddies” relationship between Maddie and her housekeeper just doesn’t work for me. Nor is it believable that all of these people are telling Maddie their deepest, darkest secrets. After discovering the identity of the killer, Maddie grabs her deceased husband’s service revolver and rushes off to confront the killer in a completely preposterous scene. I hate to deem Maddie as one of those TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) amateur sleuths – mainly because I think this series has a lot of promise – but most of her antics will make the readers either laugh, groan, or bash their heads into the wall in reaction. Also, the victim was thoroughly unlikable, and I found that I couldn’t bring myself to really care who the murderer was because that person essentially did the fictional world a favor by removing the victim from it. Overall, the premise of the novel was very interesting, and the various suspects and motives did keep me guessing at the killer’s identity.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.