The Body in the Back Garden by Mark Waddell

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: August 22nd, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Cozy Mystery, LGBT, Mystery Thriller, Adult, Queer, Contemporary, Canada, Fiction, Gay

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | Kobo

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this queer cozy series debut perfect for fans of Ellen Byron and Ellery Adams, Luke Tremblay is about to discover that Crescent Cove has more than its fair share of secrets…and some might be deadlier than others.

Crescent Cove, a small hamlet on Vancouver Island, is the last place out-of-work investigative journalist Luke Tremblay ever wanted to see again. He used to spend summers here, until his family learned that he was gay and rejected him. Now, following his aunt’s sudden death, he’s inherited her entire estate, including her seaside cottage and the antiques shop she ran for forty years in Crescent Cove. Luke plans to sell everything and head back to Toronto as soon as he can…but Crescent Cove isn’t done with him just yet.

When a stranger starts making wild claims about Luke’s aunt, Luke sends him packing. The next morning, though, Luke discovers that the stranger has returned, and now he’s lying dead in the back garden. To make matters worse, the officer leading the investigation is a handsome Mountie with a chip on his shoulder who seems convinced that Luke is the culprit. If he wants to prove his innocence and leave this town once and for all, Luke will have to use all his skills as a journalist to investigate the colorful locals while coming to terms with his own painful past.

There are secrets buried in Crescent Cove, and the more Luke digs, the more he fears they might change the town forever.

First Line:

Look, I’m only going to be there for a couple of days, so can we meet up today?”

The Body in the Back Garden by Mark Waddell

When Luke’s aunt, Marguerite, was killed in a hit-and-run accident, she left a thriving antique business and her cottage to him. Luke was surprised that he was her sole beneficiary because he hadn’t talked to her in over 20 years. Not wanting the business or cottage, Luke plans to visit Crescent Cove, settle his aunt’s estate, sell everything, and head back to Toronto. But that is easier said than done. Luke is assaulted at the cottage by a man who insists that his aunt is holding a box for him. The following day, that man is found dead in the back garden of the cottage. Luke is forced to stay in Crescent Cove while the Mounties investigate the death. But, when the antique shop is broken into and an employee is hurt, Luke decides to look into what is happening. Using his skills as an investigative journalist, Luke soon discovers that Crescent Cove has secrets, and someone doesn’t want their secrets uncovered. What secret is so life-altering that someone is willing to kill for it? And will Luke realize that Crescent Cove might be the perfect place for him to be?

The Body in the Back Garden was one of the last books I downloaded from Crooked Lane Books. I discovered that I needed to improve in the cozy mystery department and decided to download a few Read Now books on their NetGalley page. I got a variety of books, and I enjoyed reading most of them. The Body in the Back Garden was in the category of mysteries I enjoyed.

The Body in the Back Garden is the first book in a queer mystery series (the NetGalley and Goodreads pages didn’t state what the series name is). Because it is the first book, you can ignore what I usually write in this section.

The Body in the Back Garden was a medium to fast-paced book set in Crescent Cove on Vancouver Island. The pacing for this book did suit the storyline (the storyline took place within a week or so of Luke’s arrival). I did not have to go back and reread chapters, which was a massive plus for me (I don’t particularly appreciate doing that).

The main storyline centered around Luke and the murders. This book has a well-written storyline. The author focused on the murders and the investigation (Luke and the Mounties). Sometimes, it slipped, but the author quickly returned the focus to where it belonged (for example, the date with Kieran).

I wasn’t a big fan of Luke when he was first introduced in The Body in the Back Garden. He was rude and wasn’t particularly nice to people. I didn’t get it. But then the author started explaining things (and I wished he had done it earlier in the book). Luke caught his ex cheating on him with an intern at work and threw him out. Shortly after, he finds out that his aunt was killed in an accident, and he inherited everything. Luke also has trauma from his family throwing him out and disowning him when he came out to them as a teenager. Once all of that was shared, I understood why he was so defensive and prickly. Once all that was out in the open, I started to understand him better, and then I started to like Luke. By the end of the book, I loved him.

I also liked that Luke was an investigative journalist. He had contacts and knew how to help (or not help) in an investigation. I liked that he worked with the Mounties (sharing his knowledge) on the case. It was a refreshing read from the cozy mysteries I have read where the people bumble through the investigation and don’t share the information with the police.

The mystery angle of The Body in the Back Garden was terrific! There were three different mysteries in the book: the murder of Joel (the stranger), Marguerite’s accident, and (this was introduced much later in the book) the mystery of the box. I liked how the author connected everything. I also loved the twist at the end of the book. Not only was I not expecting the killer to be who it was, I didn’t expect that person to be involved with Marguerite’s death and the reason why that person did everything. It was a huge shock and left me shaking my head.

The romance angle in The Body in the Back Garden was very subtle but there. The chemistry between Jack and Luke was nonexistent at first (because Jack was salty about something that Luke had no control over as a teenager), but the author started to amp it up. They were sparking by the middle of the book (the scene at the Collingswood manor). I also liked that the author didn’t have sex scenes. But he did have Luke thirsting over Jack in his Mountie uniform (and that did give me a chuckle; who doesn’t like a man in uniform?)

The end of The Body in the Back Garden was your typical cozy mystery ending. I liked how Jack and Luke put two and two together about everything. I did feel bad for Luke when the killer was confessing everything. I also liked what Luke decided at the end of the book and what he said to Jack. It made me very excited to read book 2.

I would recommend The Body in the Back Garden to anyone over 16. There are no sex scenes, but some very mild kissing scenes. There is also violence and some mild language. There are trigger warnings, too. They would be cheating (off page and mentioned), bigotry (off page and explained to Luke about the town at one point), racism (off page and explained to Luke during the same talk with the bigotry in it), and homophobia (off page, Luke gets thrown out of his house as a teenager and his family cuts off contact with him).

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and Mark Waddell for allowing me to read and review The Body in the Back Garden. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Body in the Back Garden, then you will enjoy these books:

Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review by Tehlor Kay Meija

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Dell

Date of publication: July 18th, 2023

Genre: Romance, LGBT, Queer, Adult, Contemporary, Fiction, Gay, Music, Contemporary Romance, Lesbian

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A music critic stuck in a spiral of epic proportions targets her teenage crush for a career comeback and a chance at revenge. What could possibly go wrong?

Sammy Espinoza’s life is a raging dumpster fire. Her desperate attempt to win back her singer ex-girlfriend has landed her in hot water at work, and she has one last chance before her editor cuts her column. Luckily, Sammy has a plan to redeem herself, but it won’t be easy.

Rumor has it that Max Ryan, the former rock god, is secretly recording his first-ever solo album years after he dramatically quit performing. And it just so happens that he and Sammy have Right before Max got his big break, he and Sammy spent an unforgettable night together.

Exclusive access to Max’s new music would guarantee Sammy’s professional comeback and, even better, give her the opportunity to serve some long-awaited revenge for his traumatic ghosting.

But Max lives in Ridley Falls, Washington, and Sammy has history there as a family that never wanted her and a million unanswered questions. Going back would mean confronting it all—but what else does she have to lose?

First Line:

People like to say you can’t go home again, but for me that’s more than a literal statement than a figurative one.

Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review by Tehlor Kay Meija

Sammy Espinoza’s life is a mess. An attempt to win back her singer ex-girlfriend exploded in her face. The fallout resulted in her being on probation with the threat of her editor pulling her column unless she could redeem herself. And Sammy does plan on redeeming herself. She had just discovered that Max Ryan, a former rockstar and former one-night stand who ghosted her, might be recording his first solo album. If she can get an interview and an inside scoop about his music, she will be redeemed and forgiven. But Max lives in Ridley Falls, Washington, and Sammy doesn’t want to go back. That would mean facing her estranged family and getting answers to questions that she has had for a long time.

When I read the blurb for Sammy Espinoza (I am shortening the title for this review), I knew I wanted to read it. I have a soft spot for damaged heroines, and I love to read about what caused the damage. I decided to wish on it since it wasn’t available on Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine’s NetGalley page. When I got the email that the publisher granted my wish, I was pretty pleased. This book has stuck around in my mind since I had wished for it. And guess what? I am glad that I read this book.

Sammy Espinoza is a fast-paced book set in the fictional town of Ridley Falls, Washington. The pacing for this book was perfect for it. I had no issue following the storyline, and there were zero times I had to backtrack. There was a tiny bit of lag in the middle of the book when Sammy was floating around Ridley Falls, but that didn’t disrupt my reading experience.

I will warn you; you will need Kleenex while reading this book. You will cry because the storyline will have you in emotional knots. Sammy’s issues constitute a significant part of the storyline. It was painful to read in portions (her mother had me seeing red) and, in other parts, joyful and hopeful.

I didn’t like Sammy at the beginning of the book. She was a hot mess. Her character was selfish, childish, and had a massive chip on her shoulder. After cementing that in my head, the author then went on to show the Sammy behind all of that. The real Sammy was insecure, scarred by her childhood, and desperately wanted to be loved. Then that Sammy slowly (it was painful to read at times) morphed into the Sammy I loved. She was a self-confident woman who was happy and surrounded herself with a family she chose.

I wasn’t too sure what to think about Max. He seemed like such a nice guy, but something was also tortured about him. I figured it was part of his act until he saw Sammy after he ghosted her. Then, a side of Max that I didn’t even think existed emerged. I sympathized with him and didn’t blame him for doing what he did after Sammy told him about what she wanted to do.

The secondary characters were the backbone of this book. Sammy had a fantastic friends with Willa and Brooke. Brooke made me laugh. She was blunt and didn’t deal with Sammy’s (or Willa’s) BS. Willa’s parents were characters. And Sammy’s grandmother was just fantastic.

The storyline involving Sammy, her mother, and her father’s side of the family was heartbreaking and infuriating. I got so mad for Sammy as the storyline went on, and it slowly revealed what a jerk and how self-centered her mother was. There was a scene with Willa’s mother and one with Sammy’s grandmother that broke my heart. Sammy’s issues (well, a good part of them) could have been resolved if her mother had done the right thing. I won’t get into that storyline anymore because there will be spoilers.

The storyline involving Sammy, Max, and the article made me irritated. Sammy should have been upfront with Max about why she came to Ridley Falls. But, at the same time, Max should have been upfront with Sammy about his issues and past. But it doesn’t excuse him for just jetting on her. Especially when something very significant happened, and she was left alone.

The end of Sammy Espinonza was perfect. It also gave me one of my favorite quotes, “Three Queers and a Baby.” I did get a giggle out of that. I also liked how hopeful the last chapter was. It made me happy for Sammy and her crew.

I would recommend Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Dell, NetGalley, and Tehlor Kay Mejia for allowing me to read and review Sammy Espinozia’s Last Review. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Tehlor Kay Meija