There have been a couple of times that I’ve been harsh when I read the first book in a new series and about a year ago I was harsh on author Laura Alden when I read the first in the PTA mysteries.
Something must have happened since the sophomore book in the series, Foul Play at the PTA turned out to be a page turner. The story was tighter and Alden was in no hurry this time to introduce supporting characters. There was an even pace to the story and it takes place a year after Murder at the PTA, so a lot of the story doesn’t dwell on those past events.
As things in Rynwood, WI have quieted down after the murder of Tarver Elementary School principal, Agnes Mephisto, everything has gone back to normal with the PTA discussing the upcoming father-daughter dance, other activities which are planned throughout the year, along with a couple of new fundraising ideas, however, after this meeting secretary Beth Kennedy and president Erica Hale are leaving the school when they discover an SUV parked in the corner of the school’s parking lot. Inside they discover the body of Sam Helmstetter.
Beth vows not to get involved like she did the previous year but the bookstore owner, with the help of neighbor Marina Neff begin to dig deep into his murder. Before the amateur sleuths begin the task at hand, Alden writes a story focusing on the problems Beth’s having with her store. The divorced mother of two has to contend with an incompetent employee, a Thanksgiving guest list that gets smaller by the day, her ex-husbands recent job loss, the picketing of the store after she hires an ex-convict who was accused of murdering her husband and mounting debt.
Alden has given life to Beth, which was almost non existent in the debut novel of the series. Beth seemed to be having her own daily pity party and at the time I really didn’t care too much for her. In this installment Beth has become much stronger and not the doormat I envisioned her to be.
As the last half of the novel begins Alden focuses on the murder of Sam. Beth and Marina dust off their sleuth caps and set about finding his killer. It’s hard to pinpoint a suspect since Sam is beloved by the whole city and none of the suspects have a grudge against him. I never really did figure out who the murderer was but Alden really came across with a great climax.
If there’s a third installment (which I’m sure there will be) I hope Alden keeps the time of year as fall. There’s just something about that time of year and both novels do take place within a year of each other. I think it gives the reader a chance to rediscover the characters, rather than have the story pick up a few weeks as other series have.
I’ll up the grade to a B this time around since I think Alden can deliver a more suspenseful novel in the future.