A fun mystery, with a bit of 1940s awkwardness…
The Turquoise Shop is the first in Frances Crane’s Patrick and Jean Abbott series, set in a fictional New Mexico artists’ colony, Santa Maria, which has some notable similarities to the town of Taos, where Crane lived. The book was written in the 1940s, and unfortunately this shows in the depictions of the various inhabitants of the area, the “Indians”, the “Mexicans”, and the “Anglos”, who are casually stereotyped – both as ethnicities, and in some cases as individuals – in a manner that feels unacceptable today. (This is mitigated ever so slightly by the fact that Crane skewers more than one “Anglo” too…) But there’s also a nice little puzzle to solve that wouldn’t be out of place today: was that dead guy out beyond the outskirts of town really the town doyenne’s missing husband? And was the follow-on death of his girlfriend really suicide? And surely it wasn’t a coincidence that their remote cabin burned down? We get to watch as Sheriff Trask and aspiring artist Patrick Abbott, who clearly is not just an aspiring artist, figure things out, with a bit of help from Jean in her shop on the Santa Maria square.
In addition to the mysterious happenings, Crane’s descriptions of the high-desert Southwest were spot-on, which added considerably to my enjoyment of The Turquoise Shop. And who remembers the days when half-dollar coins existed and you could buy a calf (yes, a young cow) for a dollar. I don’t, but it’s fun to ponder. So there were positive things to enjoy about the contemporaneous 1940s setting as well. Oh yeah, and how could I forget – the author’s bio up front ever-so-blithely mentions that Crane was “invited to leave Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, after writing a number of unfavorable articles about Adolf Hitler”…wow!
All-in-all, I found The Turquoise Shop to be a fun and quick cozy mystery, and I enjoyed it enough that I’ll be watching for later books in the series to come out as e-books. I’m giving it a four-star rating, which for me is a solid “read-this-book” recommendation. However, if you think you’d be offended by some of the 1940s attitudes, you might enjoy other books more. And finally, my thanks to the publishers, American Mystery Classics, and to Edelweiss, for the review copy.