DEVIL’S KISS by Michelle Bennington
SERIES: A Small Batch Mystery #1
GENRE: Cozy Mystery
PUBLISHER: Level Best Books
RELEASE DATE: May 31, 2022
Rook Campbell is broke, divorced, jobless, and in desperate need of steady employment, which is hard to come by in the small town of Rothdale, Kentucky. With the help of her friend and neighbor Bryan, she lands a good job at the Four Wild Horses Distillery and meets an attractive co-worker with lots of dating potential. Her life is finally headed in the right direction until a co-worker dies under suspicious circumstances and a shipment of rare small-batch bourbon goes missing. Worse, her personal life begins to unravel as her beloved grandmother falls ill. Normally she can depend on her ex, Cam, for help, but his new fiancée’s jealousy is getting in the way. As the body count rises, Rook becomes ensnared in discovering who’s committing the crimes—or she might be the next to die.
Rook Campbell is going through a lot when we first meet her – still struggling to find her footing after a recent-ish divorce from ex-husband Cam, living with her grandmother Prim, and out of work. In fact, Cam and Prim are a large part of her support network (yes, she’s still close to her ex) along with her next door neighbor Bryan who is like a brother to her. As the story progresses, the author removes or limits each branch of that support network in one way or another, forcing Rook to grow up a bit more and find her own voice. I really liked the layers this process added to her character, as well as the extra dimension it gave to the story.
In fact, in this first Small Batch Mystery, Bennington has done a marvelous job of creating characters that readers will love and become invested in for the life of the series. Not only do we care about what happens to Rook & her circle in Devil’s Kiss, but our appetites are also whet for future books with a couple of plot arcs that were touched on briefly but not yet developed – namely, her mother’s past murder (for which Rook’s father is in prison) and the possibility of a romantic relationship. On that note, there were three men who appeared to be in love with her in this book, and I was positively giddy that my favorite is the one she ends up focusing on by the end.
The mystery interested me for a variety of reasons. First of all, I lived in Kentucky bourbon country from my freshman year of high school until we moved to Georgia at the end of 2020, so it was fun to feel ‘at home’ on the pages, murder notwithstanding. Secondly, the writer’s voice is warm and engaging, putting us right in the heart of a small Kentucky town with a bevy of plausible suspects who would ‘bless your heart’ right into a jail cell if needed but are also on the spot with condolence casseroles & sympathy desserts. Third, the murder was very personal for Rook and because I instantly liked her character it became personal for me too.
Bottom Line: For thirty years, I lived in the area where this story takes place, or at least the area it’s modeled after, and I loved revisiting it on the pages of Devil’s Kiss by Michelle Bennington. Rook is a protagonist you’ll be rooting for as she begins to see her own strength and stands up for herself, even while solving a murder that’s very personal to her. The mystery is layered and more complex than it first appears, and it kept me invested and turning the pages. A great weekend visit to the Bluegrass with a good mystery, engaging writing style, and colorful characters!
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4 stars / loved it!
Born and raised in the beautiful Bluegrass state of Kentucky, Michelle Bennington developed a passion for books early on that has progressed into a mild hoarding situation and an ever-growing to-read pile.
When she’s not creating contemporary or historical fictional worlds full of mysteries, she obsesses over all things British and historical. In rare moments of spare time, she can be found engaging in a wide array of arts and crafts, dance, and attending ghost tours.
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