Review: Varnished Without a Trace (book #5: A Tallie Graver Mystery series) by Misty Simon


This Christmas, Tallie Graver would like to take a break from running her cleaning business to be with her boyfriend, Max, and enjoy their first holiday together–alone. Instead, she’s stuck keeping her mother and grandmother from duking it out during the town’s annual Christmas Eve bingo game. As for festive spirit, she’ll have to settle for her mean-spirited Aunt Ronda, whose mouth could use some soap.

The night only gets worse after Tallie discovers Ronda’s body. It seems someone cleaned her clock with a can of varnish. While all the evidence points to Ronda’s husband, Tallie doesn’t believe her beloved Uncle Hoagie could do such a dirty deed. Of course, his sudden disappearance doesn’t help his case. If Tallie hopes to clear his name, she’ll need to dig up some dirt to locate the real killer. Otherwise, someone else could get rubbed out . . .

Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 4½/5 stars

Tallie Graver spent a lot of years away from her family while she was married to her now ex-husband and until this Christmas, she has regretted that choice greatly.  This Christmas, however, Tallie’s battle axe of a grandmother is visiting and Tallie is meant to be running interference for her mother.  On tonight’s agenda, Bingo at the local civic center and Tallie isn’t at all prepared for the fireworks that event normally brings.

Although, Bingo doesn’t normally bring a dead woman out the back door.  Even for Tallie, a dead woman at Bingo is a first.  As if the situation weren’t bad enough, the dead woman is the meanest old broad in town and there aren’t many mourning her passing.  For Tallie, it isn’t so much the death of the old broad that has her upset, it’s the fact her uncle has been accused of the murder and he seems to have pulled a runner.

Though Tallie has somewhat vowed to keep her nose out of police business and spend as much time as possible with her delightful beau, she simply can’t ignore a couple things 1) the police chief is actually being nice and asking for her help, and 2) there are far too many unanswered questions for Tallie to let go. 

As Tallie begins to dig around into the murder, she discovers one glaring problem, no one seems to know how her “uncle” is actually related to the family.  With all her usual avenues of investigation exhausted, Tallie has no choice but to ask the battle axe herself.  With a bit of bribery and a lot of cheek, Tallie finally gets the old broad to spill the beans and wowsa is it a monster of a tale.  Armed with her new and stunning information, Tallie sets about righting a lifetime worth of wrongs for a load of people.  As always, Tallie gets more than a bit in over her head and by the end of it all, her folks are once again telling her, “I told you so!”

The Bottom Line: I really like this installment of the Tallie Graver Mystery Series.  In fact, I read this one in no time flat and regret nothing.  As you well know, I am a huge fan of backstory and history and this book had quite a bit of each.  As Tallie uncovers clues, she also uncovers more about her family, their history, and how her family is more entrenched in the town she calls home than she could have ever imagined.  Tallie even discovers, that when push comes to shove, her family may actually understand her a bit more than she has previously gave them credit for.  I think this last bit is the bit I liked the best about this book; there is a great deal of personal evolution in Tallie’s story/life and that gives me great hope for the future of this series.

Goodreads | Amazon | Paperback

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