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Through a Glass, Deadly by Sarah Atwell

Through a Glass, Deadly

by Sarah Atwell

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Honestly, this is not my typical choice for mystery reads. The hobby subset of mysteries - where the story has to be tied to a particular pursuit or occupation, such as cooking or sewing or glassblowing - have always been at the bottom of my list when it comes to mystery choices. I find that their mysteries are rather lackluster, as the author focuses on the special interest aspect more than the sleuthing. I picked this title up because it conveniently filled a spot in my reading challenge this year (a book set in my hometown).

The story centers around main character Em, a glass maker who owns her own glass shop and studio. During one of her classes, where she teaches amateur glassblowers, a young woman named Allison shows up and watches her. After the class is over, Em makes the acquaintance of skittish Allison, who has just moved to Tucson. She is taken with this new stray (she usually takes in animals, but is prone to helping lost people, too). Em treats Allison to dinner and tries to learn more about her, but Allison remains secretive about her past. When Em returns from the enjoyable repast, however, she discovers a dead body in her studio, with its head stuffed in her glass furnace. She calls the police, and while the cops are questioning Em and detailing the scene of the crime, Allison shows up to reclaim the bike she left there earlier. The timid woman shocks them all by announcing that the body belongs to her husband, Jack, who she left two years ago. Allison quickly becomes a prime suspect, but the mystery is complicated when a FBI agent shows up and demands to have the body and Allison delivered into his custody. Fortunately, Em has a friend on the police force, her former boyfriend and the Chief of Police, Matt. He keeps the agent from absconding with Allison, but he is looking suspiciously at her, too. After Allison's apartment is ransacked, Em decides the only course of action is to invite Allison to stay with her while the mess is sorted out. Her brother is also visiting for the weekend, and Em thinks about trying her hand at a dab of matchmaking, which works far better than she expected. As the unsavory background of Allison's ex is revealed, and another body is dropped at Em's doorstep, the plucky glassblower is determined to get some answers and protect Allison, no matter the cost to herself.

As exciting as this sounds, the plot has some problems. The mystery is never allowed to gather weight or suspense. Halfway through the book, the killers simply reveal themselves, and soon after that, Allison's uncle shows up out of the blue and explains the whole history behind Jack, the criminal mobsters following him, and the missing diamonds they demanded. A good portion of the remaining half is devoted to the planned efforts of Em and her brother and the uncle to rescue Allison, who has been kidnapped, and then a final reveal is delivered at the end, when we learn that Jack was working for a mastermind who sent him to Tucson. In other words, the only mystery that isn't resolved within a few chapters of its introduction is a smaller issue, which honestly mattered very little to me. Also, while Em is clearly intended to be the amateur detective of the series, she does hardly any sleuthing. This consists of returning to Allison's apartment after the police checked it out, looking around, and figuring out that the criminals were methodical and looking for something small. Not a wonderful revelation. A point brought up by her brother soon after! Over all, I was disappointed by the mystery, which never kept me in suspense or made me want to learn who did it. I was given the answers by various deus ex machina events, and found no interesting detecting going on at all. On the positive side, the characters were well represented and likable. I really did enjoy reading from Em's perspective. She is a strong woman with an interesting career and great amounts of loyalty and attitude. Her relationship with Matt intrigued me - although this, too, was not allowed to develop much suspense before it was happily resolved. If these characters were paired with a better constructed mystery, I would be interested in pursuing this series, but at this point, I am not motivated to read further. ( )
  nmhale | Jul 26, 2015 |
First Line: "Nessa? It's pretty quiet, so I think I'm going to work on that new frit technique. You can close up when you're ready to go."

Emmeline Dowell has carved a life for herself amongst the artists of Tucson's Warehouse District. Her shop, Shards, is getting more business, and so many people are signing up for her glassblowing classes that she's going to have to make time for even more. What she doesn't need is trouble, but that's what Em gets when she takes Allison McBride under her wing. When Allison's estranged husband shows up dead in Em's studio, the glassblower finds herself working overtime to help her new friend.

Reading Through a Glass, Deadly was a case of seeing problems yet liking the book a lot anyway. There were little things like an accent that was mentioned but didn't show up until much later in the book, Chicago mobsters who seemed a tad schizophrenic (did they have scruples or were they psychopaths?), a gratuitous murder, and a character who shows up at the end with answers to many of Em's questions. Sounds like more than a little when it comes to problems, doesn't it? Well, what makes me call them little is the fact that the Tucson, Arizona setting, all the information on glassblowing, and-- more than anything else-- the character of Em Dowell are so enjoyable that I willingly overlooked them.

A lot can be forgiven-- not that there's all that much to forgive in this book-- when the main character is so well drawn. Em is a mother hen. She dotes on two dogs she rescued from the pound, and she takes all sorts of people under her wing when she can see they need help. And she's not pushy or in-your-face about it. She's just the type of friend you'd like to have. Hardworking, smart, caring, funny. This book is written from Em's point of view, and I really enjoyed being in her head. She even handles herself rather well in a very scary situation, and has a wonderful geeky brother and a handsome police chief who's very interested in her.

How much do I like Em Dowell? I've already ordered the second book in this series. Nagging plot points can be fixed, but characters like Em are few and far between. ( )
  cathyskye | Aug 17, 2013 |
I read this book yesterday afternoon and really enjoyed it. It was well written with good characters and plot. Glassblowing is something that has always interested me and it gives a small insight as to how it is done.
This is the first book in the set and am looking forward to reading the others. ( )
  didi64 | Mar 18, 2013 |
This book had potential. And up to the last third, it was going to be a much better book than it turned out to be.

We know from certain obvious marketing tells, that this is a murder mystery. Not the least being that the back cover material tells us so. There is a body. Then the ubiquitous second body also.

There are spoilers in this review because the work warrants it.

Atwell has a few stumbling blocks in the beginning, the least of which is her mother hen attitude of the new person in her life. How she decides the girl has an Irish face? (What is that?) and that she sounds Irish, when we read every piece uttered by the character and any vernacular comes much later.

Moving past that, we get into the murder, the mystery, then the clues coming together. A lot of telling. Not too much showing. That is something to work on.

We get background and see what glassblowing is, and how it relates to the mystery. But then it is all solved.

And only 2/3rds of the book. Not enough red herrings. No wrong paths. Just simple and straightforward, and with the Chief of Police and an FBI agent along for the ride, they couldn't get there.

But really it is the outside character who shows up and has so much of the detail of 'why' things have happened. And then, to make it dramatic, we kidnap one character and without any mystery any longer, just have to gather the ransom and make an exchange. 100 pages to do this, where our minds are not engaged. Where there are no puzzles to solve. It is point A to B to C...

That is what is not forgivable in this work. That is why it is merely average. That is why Atwell, unless I become rich with a great deal of leisure time, won't find me reading any more in this serious. ( )
  DWWilkin | Sep 6, 2011 |
Not a bad first for this author. Was a bit slow getting into it but once I did it sped right along. the book had great potential, but never quite reached it. Not sure I'll read the next one in the series. There are too many great reads out there to bother with another so-so one. ( )
  CozyLover | Mar 25, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425220478, Mass Market Paperback)

Glassblower Emmeline Dowell has made a home for herself among the artists of Tucson's Warehouse District. But her friendship with troubled newcomer Allison McBride takes a dangerous turn when Allison's husband turns up dead in Em's studio.

Now Emmeline is involved in a murder investigation that reaches beyond the sunny Southwest. And when the killer acts again, it's up to her to pick up the shards of Allison's life before it's too late.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:02 -0400)

Something unusual is fired in the furnace of low-key Tucson glass blower Emmeline (Em) Dowell, just after she befriends a fragile-looking redhead named Allison McBride. As Em attempts to figure out who plunged a man's head into the 2,000-degree furnace of her studio{u2014}and who the victim was{u2014}she's forced to resurrect a long-dead acquaintance with ex-lover police chief Matt Lundgren. When she's not busy making and selling art glass and hanging with Allison, Em is dodging surly strangers and trying to figure out why the FBI is so interested in the case.… (more)

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