Author: Jamila A. Stone
Publisher: Black Glory Publishing House
Publication date: October 22, 2020
One Sentence Summary: Diane wants to leave crime scenes behind now that her father is dead and she’s opened a bookstore, but crime scenes have a way of following her.
Mystery and bookstore. I was really intrigued. Even though I’ve been reluctant to accept review requests for mysteries, I was fascinated by the idea of a bookstore owner getting involved in crime and mystery. It wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.
A TV Crime Drama
After her father’s murder, forensic scientist Diana Gates turned to becoming a bookstore owner. After befriending and hiring a young waitress, Catherine, at the coffee shop across the street, everything seems to be going well, though Diane knows little about Catherine’s life.
When Diane arrives one morning and finds Catherine’s body, she can’t help but get involved. Driven by her blooming friendship with the young woman, she’s unsatisfied with the shoddy work done by the local police department, and is even less impressed with the captain. But Detective Eric Barnes offers her a way of helping, and Diane will do anything to find answers, even if it leads into a past she didn’t know existed.
Gates’ Bookstore starts off slow, but very nicely builds up the mystery. There are plenty of twists and turns and plenty of suspense, especially at the end. But the pacing was uneven with events seemingly speeding along, and then long periods of time between key points. It gave me the impression crime solving was extremely slow even though the characters gave off the feel of urgency. It also felt like a failure to communicate story as Diane refused to trust law enforcement and wasn’t shy about keeping things close to her chest, even with her few allies.
Overall, the story seemed very plot-driven, almost as though the story was being strong armed by the author when I got the feeling the characters might have wanted to do something else. There were scenes where it felt like it would naturally go one way, only for it to make a sharp turn so it adhered to the story the author had plotted out. It was disappointing, but there was a lot of story that needed to be covered.
The most fascinating thing about Gates’ Bookstore was that it gave me a strong impression of the Bones TV show, especially when it came to the characters. As the first in the series, it read more like the first half of a series premiere, leaving off on a cliffhanger worthy of a TV crime drama. Much of the first half felt like a standard mystery novel, but, as the story went into the second half, there was more drama, a more cinematic feel, and twists and turns coming out of everywhere. It became quite intense, especially as a personal connection to Diane was revealed, in true TV drama fashion.
Strong, but Difficult to Get to Know
Gates’ Bookstore gives us two strong characters: Diane Gates and Detective Eric Barnes. They had strong backstories and personalities. It was fun to watch them play off of each other. Their chemistry, though, was a little lacking as much of the story was more tell than show, so I felt like the characters were holding me at arms length. It was difficult to really get to know them and feel connected to them, so their relationship felt more surprising than loving.
I liked that Diane was so confident, but she also came off as arrogant and almost no better than the male officers she frequently derided. It was difficult to connect with her since she usually came off as high and mighty even though she was prone to making mistakes throughout the novel. She reminded me of the TV character Temperance Bones as she tended to think of herself as better and smarter, though Diane already started the story with a record of bad mistakes and I found little to be endearing about her. Diane felt a bit cold, so I was surprised about the intensity of her relationship with Eric, especially since she repeatedly refused to open up. I was bothered by her frequent decisions to want to look sexy and, well, very good looking and how she treated others. She expected others to give and give to her, but offered very little herself.
Eric was marginally better, but his character felt a bit like he was being jerked around by the story. Whatever the story demanded, whatever Diane demanded, he offered. There were times when it seemed like he was going to take things in his own hands and make his own demands, but the story always decided for him. I loved the way he was portrayed when the reader first meets him and then when the reader learns how intense he is as detective, but he becomes putty in Diane’s hands and his characterization weakens as the story goes on.
I’m presuming Gates’ Bookstore takes place somewhere that is neither too big nor too small, but I honestly couldn’t tell where it was meant to be set. It did mention the Manhattan Bridge, but I got zero vibes of New York City. Instead, it felt slower and smaller than NYC and I was picturing a large town with a quaint downtown where the bookstore is located. But, again, I literally couldn’t figure out where it’s supposed to be set even though the characters travel around quite a bit, from homes to the bookstore to a river and even further afield to a place Diane grew up going to.
Perfect for TV
Gates’ Bookstore strongly reminded me of the TV show Bones. I had vivid memories of watching the show with my mom just a few years ago and couldn’t shake the feeling this story felt like the first half of a series premiere. Overall, it was an interesting, twists story with plenty of things to find out, but I disliked the cliffhanger when I expected a full novel, especially since it’s quite a long read, though new twists closer to the end clued me in to the fact this was definitely not going to be a standalone. I wanted to like the characters, especially with how strong Diane came off of, but I disliked the way she treated people unless they agreed with her, so the story itself was definitely the star for me since I did enjoy all the twisty turns.
Great if you enjoy: strong women, cliffhangers, twisty mysteries, lots of secrets, stories deriding law enforcement
Not great if you’re looking for: a standalone, sympathetic characters, romance
How many cups of tea will you need?
3 cups will do
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Thank you to the author, Jamila A. Stone, for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.