Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | October 17, 2011

Mystery Month Book Review: A Gift for Murder by Karen McCullough

This week’s Mystery Month guest author is mystery writer Karen McCullough. Karen writes in a variety of genres, from paranormal romantic suspense — such as Magic, Murder, and Microcircuits, which will be released Friday, October 21, 2011 — to fantasy — including the 2000 Eppie winning Wizard’s Bridge — to mysteries like A Gift for Murder, which is the first novel in her new Market Center Mysteries series.

A Gift for Murder is set in Washington, D.C., where the central character, Heather McNeil, works as assistant to the director of the Commerce and Market Show Center. Heather loves and totally enjoys her job — except for the agonizing, chaotic week of the Gift and Home Trade Show, the biggest event of the year. This is a make-or-break situation for the exhibitors, the time and place where wholesalers display their wares for retailers and take orders for the coming year. The competition is cutthroat. Disputes between exhibitors, power outages, overly loud music, misplaced shipments, a missing exhibitor, and a malfunctioning popcorn machine keep Heather, her boss, Janelle Addison, and the rest of the Center staff hopping.

With skill, patience, and a bit of luck, Heather manages to keep things running smoothly … until she goes with two other staffers to clean up the loading dock receiving area, where the body of the missing exhibitor turns up in a dumpster. Tim Bethel, co-owner of Grantwood & Bethel, a supplier of gifts and accessories, has had his head bashed in with a crowbar. The police are called in. On top of everything else, Heather now must deal with a murder investigation and the fears and gossip among the exhibitors.

The prime suspect is the victim’s wife, but Heather has her doubts. She has a hunch that the death has more to do with Bethel’s business, and she finds no lack of suspects. With the help of the Center’s handsome new security guard, Scott Brandon, who is a former police officer, and one of the exhibitors, who is a company executive with ulterior motives, Heather conducts her own investigation. Her questions to exhibitors about the crime not only ruffle their feathers but aggravate her boss and the police as well. Nevertheless, she persists. If the culprit isn’t identified before the show ends, he or she might never be identified, and Heather firmly believes the police are looking in the wrong direction. To solve the mystery, she is willing to risk her job and possibly even her life.

Author Karen McCullough playing Pictionary at Stellarcon 34

A Gift of Murder is an enjoyable read with an engaging protagonist and a variety of unique supporting characters. Heather McNeil is the first-person narrator of the story. In general, I prefer reading third-person novels because first-person narrators can become annoying, but that is not so in this case! Karen’s skill with the first person narration take you right into the character, and the non-stop events of the show and twists and turns in the mystery — leavened with an irresistible touch of humor — make the novel fast-paced and hard to put down.

A Gift for Murder is classified as a cozy mystery, but I see it more as a mystery/romance. Scott Brandon is an attractive supporting character — just who I’d like to help me if I ever had to solve a mystery! The sparks between Heather and Scott form a strong subplot that both enlivens and enhances the story.

From “A Gift for Murder is a delightful mystery, with some laughs, a touch of romance, and an abundance of red herrings. Heather is an engaging lead, and her supporting cast offers both contrast and balance to her role. The murder venue presents plenty of opportunities for hiding clues in plain sight, and the author does a fine job of providing her new sleuth with the resources to get the job done. The behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on a convention center-sized trade show adds interest to the story without detracting from the murder investigation itself. This is a solid start to a promising new series.”


  1. This book sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review.


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