Witch Way to Murder by Shirley Damsgaard: C

From the back cover:
Ophelia Jensen wishes she was just your typical, thirty-something librarian. Unfortunately, she’s been burdened with psychic powers—an unwanted “gift” she considers inconvenient at best and at worst downright dangerous. Her kindly old grandmother Abby, however, has no compunctions about the paranormal, being a practicing witch with unique abilities of her own.

And sometimes the otherworldly arts do come in handy—like when the arrival of a mysterious, good-looking stranger to their normally tranquil corner of Iowa seems to trigger an epidemic of catastrophes, from the theft of bomb-making materials to a murdered corpse dumped in Abby’s backyard.

Luckily Ophelia and Abby are on the case and determined to make things right. But it’ll take more than magic to get out of the boiling cauldron of lethal trouble they’re about to land themselves in.

When a friend of mine mentioned on Twitter that she was indulging in some “fluffy fiction,” I—book fiend that I am—had to inquire. This ultimately lead to me borrowing a copy of Witch Way to Murder, which I believe was described as “chick-lit paranormal mystery” or words to that effect.

The basic plot is that Ophelia, a thirty-something librarian, has moved to the small town of Summerset, Iowa to escape the grief of her best friend’s murder four years ago. She eschews human contact, partly because of her past and also because she is trying to avoid acknowledging that she has inherited her grandmother Abby’s psychic abilities. Into Ophelia’s life intrudes Rick Delaney, a persistent reporter investigating a string of chemical thefts, which leads to Ophelia’s involvement in ferreting out a major drug ring as well as solving a murder, making a friend, and finally embracing her magical abilities.

Damsgaard’s writing was a major obstacle to my enjoyment of the book. Her sentences are often choppy, and dialogue is stiff and unrealistic. Like, for example, this bit in which Abby is talking to her granddaughter, Ophelia:

I’ve lived in this town fifty-three years and realize it isn’t the same here as in the mountains where I grew up.

Who would talk like that to their own granddaughter? My grandma grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, and if she were the one speaking, she’d say “it isn’t the same here as it was back on the farm.” And then of course we would all know it was the farm in Wisconsin on which she grew up ‘cos, like, she’s our grandma.

The book is also poorly edited, featuring a “picture perfect” without the hyphen, a “base” instead of “bass,” a “there” instead of “they’re.” There are some repetitive turns of phrase, and even some repeated actions, like when Ophelia is twisting a napkin back and forth on page forty-eight and then someone else is doing the same thing on page fifty. Maybe there’s so little to do in Summerset that napkin-twisting is all the rage!

Lastly, the mystery is not really that great, though at least it held my interest, and I was able to peg the culprit from his very first appearance. That said, though, I did like Darci, Ophelia’s new friend, whose intelligence is constantly being underestimated because she’s blonde and shapely, and it was unexpected that Ophelia and Rick did not get together in the end, despite the many, many, many scenes of him pestering her (we are informed he is charming, but he mostly comes across as annoying) and her responding in spite of herself.

Ultimately, even though this book was far from great, I still ended up borrowing the second book in the series. Maybe it’ll be better than this one.

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