Southern Secrets by Willow Monroe (2016)
I stumbled upon Southern Secrets by Willow Monroe by accident. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a cozy mystery to read, but I was looking for something to read. Southern Secrets is the first book in the Ace Baxter Ghost Chronicles paranormal cozy mystery series. In terms of the cozy mystery genre, this book is a bit of a unicorn in that the main character is male (the main character of a cozy is almost always female) and that’s one of the main reasons I picked it up and decided to give it a try. That and the fact that it’s a short read, which meant I didn’t have to make a lengthy time commitment. On a budget? At the time of this writing, Southern Secrets isn’t available from my local library but it is available in the Kindle Unlimited library. If you’re not a KU subscriber, then it’ll cost you $2.99 plus tax. If I’d spent my book budget dollars on Southern Secrets I probably would have regretted the decision. That being said, it’s a decent read and when prompted I gave it a three-star rating.
As you’ve already guessed, the protagonist of the novel is Ace Baxter. The story is told through his first-person POV. Ace is recently retired from the Army, where he spent twenty years as a military police officer. He’s also recently divorced from his second wife. Ace has moved to Mossy Creek (located somewhere in the South) and bought an old plantation house called Blackthorn Manor. He has set up shop as a private investigator and is basically starting over. When the story opens, it’s Ace’s first morning in his new house and he’s confronted by the apparition of a Confederate soldier pointing a gun at him. It is Ace’s first experience seeing a ghost, and after the soldier disappears, he sees two more ghosts in his living room. Thinking maybe he’s losing his mind, Ace calls his sister, Lilly, who happens to be a psychiatrist and asks if there’s a history of mental illness in the family. She assures him there isn’t and he’s unwilling to tell her exactly what prompted him to ask. For the time being, Ace keeps his experience of seeing ghosts to himself. Oddly, it’s never revealed in the story why Ace can suddenly see ghosts, and I can only wonder if this will remain a mystery or if it is something that will be explained later on in the series. It’s not long after seeing his first ghosts that Ace learns of an unsolved murder that occurred in his new house. For the remainder of the novel, his primary story goal is to find out whodunnit.
Like many novels I’ve read recently, Southern Secrets relies heavily upon internal narrative. The result is a thin supporting cast of characters that don’t really receive a lot of screen time on the page. It seems like every cozy mystery I’ve ever read offers some kind of police officer-type character, and this book is no exception. In this story we’re given Sam Oaks, the Chief of Police for Mossy Creek. He’s colorless and unremarkable, but he’s there to fill his role as the character who can enforce the law when needed. The ghosts of Annabelle and Essie Blackthorn, who lived in the house all of their lives, appear to be set to stick around and act as supporting characters. Annabelle is the stern one and Essie is the whimsical one. Ace’s aforementioned sister, Lilly, lives in Atlanta but brother and sister talk on the phone often, thereby keeping her present in the novel if not physically in Mossy Creek. Last is the librarian of the local library, Kitty Davenport, who I would expect to continue to pop up in future stories in order to help Ace do whatever research is needed to solve his cases. The truth is that I didn’t really care about any of the supporting characters. I can write about who they are, but beyond that, none of them has any real depth or sparks any real interest for me as a reader. All of the characters, including Ace, are bland, flat characters, and if this hadn’t been a quick read, it’s questionable whether I would have made it to the end of the book.
I love the novelty of a male protagonist in a cozy mystery. That being said, I don’t plan on reading the next book in this series. My suggestion? Skip this one and keep on browsing for your next read.
Have you read Southern Secrets or any of the books in the Ace Baxter Ghost Chronicles series? What did you think?