4 stars out of 5
This is the first book I've read in this series, but when I had the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, I checked out the description. That, and learning that all the books can be read as stand-alones in any order, convinced me to give it a go.
And by golly, I enjoyed it. It's got a solid plot with enough action to keep things interesting, although I'd describe it as much closer to a cozy mystery than a "thriller." There's the requisite cozy romance - this time between the hero, detective Jack Stratton, and the woman he wants to marry, investigator Alice - but I must say for two people who supposedly are in love, I sensed no real romantic vibe between the two of them. There's also a group of elderly ladies who can't keep their noses out of police business despite being told repeatedly that they'd just gum up the investigation (also a cozy requirement in some form or other). And inexplicably, Alice - supposedly a professional investigator herself - goes along with the hijinks they concoct. There's zero sex, no graphic violence even though murders happen and even the barest of hints of religion. All that said, the whole thing comes together in a fun, fast-paced adventure that made me look forward to reading the next one.
The story begins as Jack is taking Alice to Florida to meet his parents for the first time. They get stuck bringing Lady, his oversize King Shepherd, along for the ride (stuck in the cargo hold, where she's none too happy). Jack is a bit nervous, although mostly because when he popped the question to Alice recently, she didn't give him an enthusiastic response. Not surprisingly, Jack's parents welcome Alice with open arms - but notably, also with separate sleeping quarters. And immediately, they are taken to Lady as well (bless their hearts -I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be that welcoming to a brute the size of Lady in my house, no matter how sweet she is).
Soon, Jack and Alice learn of a series of petty thefts carried out by someone known in the retirement community as the "Orange Blossom Cove Bandit" and meet a group of ladies who belong to a book club who are determined to catch the perp. Meantime, another story line takes shape as Curtis Dixon, under the watchful eye of his evil elderly aunt, commits robberies that culminate in murder in the same community. Surely, I thought to myself, murder would be the first topic of discussion for Jack's parents and the other elderly folks who live here rather than trinkets like gone-missing solar-powered crowing roosters - but then that's just me; pink flamingos are the only non-living thing allowed to set foot in my yard, and who'd even consider stealing them? In the midst of all this isn't enough, unbeknownst to Alice, Jack has been trying to track down information on her family; her parents, it seems, were killed in an automobile crash many years ago that she alone survived.
So insistent are the book club ladies that Jack, a former policeman, find the garden thief that he just can't say no to their demands for help - especially since one of them is his mother, for goodness sake. He's got a week before he and Alice must return to their normal lives; can they solve the case in time? And will the robbery/murder incidents somehow tie into on their efforts, perhaps putting lives of people they love on the line? And maybe most important, is there anything Jack can do to convince Alice to say yes?
Like a jar of Prego spaghetti sauce, it's all in there - but you'll just have to open the jar and find it for yourself.
Jack of Hearts by Christopher Greyson (Greyson Media LLC, August 2017); 260 pp.