Book Review - Mindful of Murder (2022) by Susan Juby

Cover art for Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby

Local author Susan Juby serves up a murder mystery with a Westcoast flair in Mindful of Murder. When Helen’s dear friend Edna passes away she’s called to settle a large part of her estate by deciding who will take over Edna’s beautiful wellness retreat The Yatra Institute on Sutil island. As Helen arrives to the institute she feels something isn’t quite right about Edna’s death. While others on the island knew Edna had plans to end her life on her own terms, Helen isn’t convinced that her dear friend was truly ready to say goodbye. As if someone knew what she was thinking, Helen receives an anonymous letter that confirms her suspicions but she has to put her concerns on the back burner and prepare to welcome Edna’s heirs to the retreat. Four relatives of Edna’s will be arriving but they have been given very little information as to why they’ve been asked to spend time at the Yatra institute, let alone expected take some of the intense courses that guests would typically spend a great deal of time and money on. Their participation in the institute’s courses of dance, floral arrangement and meditation will help Helen determine who is best suited to take the reins at The Yatra Institute. But it won’t be that simple for Helen, as the more she learns about these four individuals, the more she discovers that Edna’s heirs aren’t as unaware of the situation at Yatra as they have led her to believe. What exactly are their motives for being there? Is it just to receive an inheritance that some of them feel entitled to? Or are their intentions pure and good?

If you’ve ever been to any of the Southern Gulf islands in B.C. it’s super easy to envision this story happening on say Galiano or Bowen island. I really enjoyed the local aspect that it gave. The cast of characters are definitely quirky and unique. Helen is a former nun turned butler. The four heirs include Tad and Wils Todd, Whitney and Rayvn. The Todd brothers are spoiled, previously rich 30 something’s that feel like they were ripped from the 90’s. Whitney is the daughter of a failed actress who has never been quite good enough to get her mother’s approval. And Rayvn is the young creative sweet soul you’d expect to meet from middle Vancouver Island. The serving staff and course instructors round out the rest of the outlandish main characters in this story and bring a bit of humour to an otherwise standard murder mystery.

Susan Juby definitely has a way with words. Her ability to describe the scenery and lodging at the Yatra institute on the fictional Sutil island would have you believe that it is a real place. She can definitely paint a picture with her words. The only part that was disappointing for me was when it came to some of the intense experiences in the story. I’d rather get into the characters feelings and what they are seeing in the moment over a description of the food served to the guests. “It was a cake filled with peaches baked in browned butter and studded with apricots and tiny hints of candied ginger.” It feels like a missed opportunity to create suspense. It left the story feeling very G-rated. I don’t expect Stephen King gore but it needed a bit more intensity, more 'hair standing up on the back of your neck' kind of details. I also feel like the story could have used more peaks and valleys when it came to peeling away the layers of this ‘who done-it’ murder mystery. Typically one or more suspects will present themselves in a murder mystery early on and then the author misdirects your suspicions until the murderer is revealed. That doesn’t really happen in this story until much too late. 

Overall, Mindful of Murder is a nice and easy read. It’s more fun and quirky than dark and mysterious. If you love local authors and a story you can pick up and put down with ease then you’ll want to check it out.

Susan Juby’s Mindful of Murder comes out Tuesday March 8.

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