Book Review: The Wiccan Wheel Mysteries by Jennifer David Hesse

Well, okay. This isn’t a proper review, exactly. It’s more like my overall thoughts on the first three books in this new-to-me cozy series.

But first, let me chat with you about cozies. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, just visit this website and the answer to almost any question that you might have is likely here. In short, a cozy mystery lacks gratuitous scenes of bloody murder, features a usually quirky, always likeable protagonist, who also happens to be an amateur detective, and things are wrapped up by the end of the book. There’s almost always some kind of theme that ties the series together — maybe the protag owns a bookshop (which seems to be really popular) or a bakery. Perhaps she Does Scrapbooking, or is active in her church. These are all themes that I’ve found, by the way.

Read on, if you wish to listen whilst I wax poetic about my favorite type of comfort reading!

My personal favorite is Ellery Adams’s Book Retreat series. The premise is fascinating: what if there was a hidden library of the world’s rarest books that have been hidden away from the public for one reason or another? Imagine books that could, if they became widely available,  bring great harm to many people, such as a rare herbal tome with completely false information about which plants are safe for human consumption, for example. Certainly these books shouldn’t be burned. Rather, let’s TRANSPORT AN ENTIRE ENGLISH MANOR HOUSE ACROSS THE ATLANTIC OCEAN TO VIRGINIA AND HIDE THE SECRET LIBRARY THERE, THAT SEEMS LOGICAL, YES. Furthermore, let’s bring an ancient order of knight-ish types into the future and give them the responsibility of protecting NOT EXACTLY THE BOOKS, but the GUARDIAN, who’s actually responsible for keeping the books safe. Despite my use of sarcastic capital letters, I really do love this series.

I have been known to leave thrift stores and bookstores with entire armloads of cozies. They’re truly the comfort food equivalent of reading. With a healthy serving of murder.

During one of those shopping sprees, I came away with the first novel in Jennifer David Hesse’s Wiccan Wheel Mysteries. It involved Shakespeare and the cover was pretty. Good enough for me. I finally read it a few weeks ago, and have read the two following volumes since. I’m not going to review them; reviewing a cozy mystery is a challenge that I’m not up to. They are, by nature, formulaic, but that’s what I like about them, especially if I’m not feeling well for one reason or another. It’s comforting to know that things are going to be mostly okay at the end.

Hesse’s series, however, differs from quite a few others that I’ve read. For one, her protag is an attorney. This is unusual in and of itself. In this day and age, managing a successful bakery that only serves cookies, for example, is a career that is not viable for most people. Neither is a scrapbook store, a knitting shop, or running a resort that’s devoted entirely to reading (and also bans the use of anything with a screen in the public areas). Most average citizens might not be lawyers, but it’s at least an actual career that is both attainable and realistic. The quirk here is that our heroine, Kelli, is a practicing Wiccan. I am not, so I have no idea how true to life the portrayal of her religion is, but Hesse seems to be sincere in her respect for Wicca and her desire to portray it as such. Kelli is afraid to come out of the closet, so to speak, to protect her career. Only her best friend, boyfriend, and the local coven know what she is. And while I understand her desire to keep that part of her life semi-private, and completely away from her legal career, it would be interesting to see how things would go for her if she just came out with it already.

The first novel in the series, Midsummer Night’s Mischief, is unique to me in that it doesn’t revolve around a murder and the protag stumbling across the body (that comes later in the series). This one is about a theft and the threat that it poses to Kelli’s legal career. Instead of hunting down a murderer, Kelli’s looking for a thief. I find this a refreshing change from the typical cozy formula (protag encounters town resident that has evidently been around this whole time but not mentioned, protag later finds said resident dead, proceeds to investigate the crime without law enforcement’s consent, and eventually solves the whole thing, leaving law enforcement looking dumb).

There’s more thievery afoot in the second book, Bell, Book, and Candlemas. This time with bonus mystery tunnels and at least one unfortunate murder (perhaps more, it’s been a little while since I read this one).

Book three, Yuletide Homicide, has the highest body count yet (two), but has still managed to avoid the typical formula, for the most part.

I do enjoy seeing Kelli practicing Wicca and incorporating it into the way that she solves the various mysteries. She’s not flinging magic spells at bad guys; more, she uses her religion to center herself, call for guidance from the Goddess, and occasionally utilize a potion to inspire people to speak more freely. That’s it. As I said, it seems very realistic and respectful.

There’s also the usual romantic subplot here. In this case, it seems to work out pretty well for Kelli and her boyfriend, though I’d kind of like her to just get a room with her frenemy and coworker, Crenshaw. The tension between the two of them led me to say, out loud, “JUST KISS ALREADY” during the third book. Boyfriend be damned, I’m Team Pompous Crenshaw.

I don’t read cozies for the great literary value. I read them because they’re fun and comforting. They’re not entirely total brain candy — the reader still has the option to play at being a detective right along with the protag, but that’s part of the fun.

Also, at the end of all things, when I put the book down, I can say to myself that my life isn’t so bad after all. At least nobody tried to leave me for dead in a soundproof room at a gun range today. That makes it a good day.

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