By: Jill M. Lyon
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
A retired lawyer unexpectedly turns sleuth when murder enters the scene of a small coastal town in The Summer Festival is Murder.
Felice and David Bowes leave behind their long, busy big-city careers and life to settle down in Sheffield's quaint and quieter small-town atmosphere in Coastal Oregon. Not afraid of change, Felice immediately gets involved, volunteering in small projects and keeping up with the local politics—her way of getting acquainted with the townspeople. The latter involvement becomes eye-opening when she observes Greta Sutton, the town's mayor, haranguing city council members over budget issues during Sheffield's most significant event of the year: the Summer Festival.
Greta's constant nagging gets Felice's attention enough to follow the acerbic mayor to a tent, where she privately meets with Dwight Orkman, the city manager. Overhearing the conversation, Felice is taken aback when Greta threatens Dwight's job if he doesn't comply with her commands. The following day, Felice receives a phone call from Becky, her paramedic friend, who tells her that Greta had been murdered, her body found near the logging site of the festival grounds. Because of her lawyer background, Tom Abhay, the Chief of Police, asks if Felice would do community policing by talking with a few townsfolk. Just as her talks get underway, the community experiences a second murder.
Upcoming author Jill Lyon produces a twisty but realistic story in her debut mystery. Lyon grabs the attention of her readers from the get-go on various levels. For starters, her first-person narration speaks directly to her audience, providing an omniscient view into the mind of Felice Bowes, the novel's self-assured protagonist narrator. Having done thorough research on the west coast, Lyon paints a complete portrayal of the unique qualities that define the Oregon coastline: logging, multiple coffee outlets, mild temperatures, wet winters (i.e., driving slanted rain), dry summers, and the stunning beauty of nature (i.e., salmon, otters, Douglas fir trees).
Another draw-in is Lyon's realistic cast. Lyon includes a full, unremarkable line-up of standard, everyday (and primarily proactive) people. While supplying her mystery with relatable characters, her secondary cast is also made up of elusive individuals who push Felice to kick her lawyer instincts in high gear and keep readers constantly wondering about culprits.
One would think that with a mystery set in first-person POV, the plot would keep to noire elements. On the contrary, while Lyon main character carries robust, defining features, Felice is also classified among the common folk. It's in Felice's continual thought processes and discussions with people, reminding readers that Felice is an average human being determined to do the right thing. Outside of a few third-person back scenes, Lyon mainly uses Felice's interchanges with townsfolk, clues she discovers along the way, and chapter cliff-hangers to build tension.
Quill says: The Summer Festival is Murder is a perfect read for mystery lovers who enjoy ordinary characters.