An inherited dream house turns into a nightmare in this debut California mystery.
Professional organizer Maggie McDonald was led to believe her family’s newly acquired 100-year-old American Craftsman home was move-in ready. But there is a major issue in the basement: a dead body. If that isn’t enough to make the home anything but turnkey, there are also holes in floorboards, broken windows, and electrical issues. Two phone calls worsen the situation. The first, to Maggie’s husband, Max, is from his boss telling him to fly to Bangalore immediately. The second is from movers who report the family’s belongings won’t arrive until the next week. Maggie’s organizational skills are put to the test as she gets her sons enrolled in school, immerses herself in her new community, and deals with a house full of detectives and family pets (two cats and a golden retriever) but devoid of furniture. She also makes arrangements to make the home livable, though it’s subjected to ongoing vandalism. When she finds another body, her to-do list includes finding the killer in her tightknit community. Creepiness—a dead squirrel impaled on the porch, an electrical box rigged to catch fire—is well-captured in the novel, as is humor. Maggie is known to compensate with carbs when things go awry, and they often do (cookie-eating punctuates the book). Details are endearing: an older woman’s living room has a doorframe with the faded marks of a growth chart; the McDonalds use sign language to say “I love you.” Maggie’s kids are intriguing, and her new acquaintances eclectic. Feliz is strong at characterization; a strict principal is known for slapping shut the cover of her iPad, and a burly war veteran needs tissues to tell of rescuing a puppy from a dumpster (“I stuffed him in my shirt, fleas and all”). Breaking up the first-person narrative are emails between Maggie and India-based Max, and each chapter begins with a helpful planning suggestion From the Notebook of Maggie McDonald / Simplicity Itself Organizing Services, such as “Sometimes, life gets in the way, and there are other things far more important to attend to than being organized.” Indeed.
A skillful amateur detective with an impressive to-do list emerges in this inventive series opener.