Two years ago, Michael Murphy introduced us to Jake Donovan and Laura Wilson, two New Yorkers who hit it big as a detective turned mystery writer and a Broadway actress/movie star. Since that time, Murphy has been prolific, giving us four Jake & Laura mysteries in locales as varied as New York City, Los Angeles, Hawaii and now, in The Big Brush-off, Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Part of the fun of the first three novels were the glitzy, glamorous settings, but in The Big Brush-off, Murphy demonstrates he can write an engaging murder mystery without relying on exotic locales. Jake and Laura have enough glamour and chemistry to carry a story all by themselves.
The premise of The Big Brush-off is that Jake has lost his touch as a writer. Maybe he’s lost focus because of his recent marriage to Laura, his support for her blossoming career, and the distractions of getting drawn into several, “real-life” murder mysteries in need of his detective skills. Whatever the reason, his New York editor tells him his latest work stinks, and he needs to find inspiration or move on to another career.
Jake decides to pursue a change of scenery by heading to Hanover, Pennsylvania, which has haunted him for a decade. He failed to solve a murder case involving a teenage victim. When the girl’s dying mother asks him to try again, he finds it impossible to refuse.
Laura comes along, even though she’s being summoned back to Hollywood to discuss the biggest role to date of her short movie career. She’s a bit of an amateur sleuth herself, and she wants to be part of the adventure.
Hanover is good for Jake’s writing, and he finds a way to breathe new life into Blackie. He and Laura continue to grow in a relationship that started when they were kids.
Once again, Murphy serves up lots of crisp, sassy dialogue, intriguing plot development, and some interesting characters. If you’re a mystery buff, and you enjoy historical settings, give this book and the rest of Murphy’s Jake & Laura series a try.