A Lie for a Lie (Ministry is Murder Mystery)
by Emilie Richards
Cover Artist: Ben Perini
Review by Mel Jacob
Berkley Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425226643
Date: 03 February 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In her new mystery, A Lie for a Lie, Emilie Richards puts Aggie Sloan-Wilcox in the middle of a community talent show ala American Idol with responsibility for keeping the arrogant, self-centered judge Grady Barber happy. A local boy who hit the big time in Hollywood, with a career now on the skids, he judges local talent shows around the country and preys on women contestants. He has more enemies than friends and makes new ones all the time. Meanwhile, Aggie has to keep her family functioning, especially after her minister husband mentions their teenage daughter in a sermon.
A traveling circus, Sister Nora's Inspirational Tent Show, crusades for global climate change and plans a biosphere in Emerald Springs to lead the way. Citizens protest the disruption, the strange circus people, and the quasi-religious message. Meanwhile, Aggie fears her free-spirited mother might join the circus or free the wild animals.
Tensions build during the talent contest, especially when Grady savages most contestants and upsets the hotel staff. It requires all Aggie's ingenuity to keep things functioning. Then, after a loud row, Grady's assistant quits. Now, Aggie must do his job as well as smooth over the problems Grady creates.
On the critical night just before the final round of judging, someone kills Grady. Evidence points to Sister Nora. Neither Aggie nor her mother believe this and seek clues to another person. The problem is which of Grady's many enemies did the deed.
Part of the joy of reading Richards comes from her quirky and fully rounded characters. She makes ample use of comedy with Aggie's sharp observations and the eccentric behavior of others. What may start out as a stereotype rapidly becomes a real person with complex needs and motivations. She takes time to develop them and her story; hence, the murder occurs after the first third of the novel.
Unlike some writers, she always plays fair with the reader. The clues to the murderer are there for astute readers to work out the answer a bit before Aggie does. Twists and zigzags help maintain interest.