A Maze of Murder

Title: A Maze of Murder (Witch Against Wicked 1)
Publisher: Krakenfire Media
Author: Kate Krake
Pages: 198pp
Price: $14.99 / free

Belinda Drake is a witch on the run. Orphaned at a young age, she and her twin brother Quentin were passed from one foster family to another — usually right after one of them performed a bit of magic and their foster parents freaked out. When Quentin falls in with a bad coven, and then uses a death curse, he abandons her, leaving Belinda completely alone for the first time in her life. Never trained properly and unsure of her abilities, Belinda hides out in the small town of Blackthorn Springs, where she runs the local bookstore, eats too much chocolate, and tries to avoid attracting attention. … But then the owner of the neighboring coffee shop is murdered. And she finds out that her assistant is descended from the Fae. And that the head librarian is a demon (but a very nice one). And the veterinarian is … something grumpy. And the head of her brother’s coven is stalking her. And the hedgerow maze that has been built outside of town as a tourist attraction is, in fact, a deadly ghost maze. Someone has to solve the murder and undo the ghost maze, before anyone else dies …. And it looks like that someone is Belinda ….

I’m always on the lookout for new paranormal mystery series to read. When I found A Maze of Murder — for free, no less — I decided to give it a chance. That turned out to be a good decision.

A Maze of Murder is well-written and engaging, with a sympathetic protagonist, a delightful cast of supporting characters, and a mystery filled with red herrings. I really like Belinda. Unlike the protagonists in so many cozy paranormal mysteries, she is not a bubbly ingenue who inherited magic and a crumbling estate from some previously-unknown relative. She is thirty-six and she is emotionally and psychologically scarred from years of neglect and abandonment. She desperately wants to think the best of people, to make friends, maybe even build a found family — but she has been hurt so many times. Her lack of formal magical training has left her woefully ignorant about too many things; she is shocked to learn that there are so many supernaturals living in Blackthorn Springs, and even more shocked when she realizes how strong her own magic really is.

The supporting cast is great. Lila (Belinda’s assistant) is sweet, inquisitive, and a compulsive knitter. She can also talk to Belinda’s cat — sort of. Henry, who runs the music store and who is more than he appears. Adela the librarian, a Naarin demon who claims noninterference in human affairs, but then starts giving Belinda the magic lessons she so badly needs. And Conri the grumpy veterinarian, who likes to walk around the woods nude during the full moon. Among others who will no doubt become more important as the series progresses.

Fair warning: like most cozy mysteries, A Maze of Murder does not feature swearing, sex, or graphic violence. It does, however, deal with matters that may concern some readers. Most notably, Belinda is being stalked and sexually harassed by the head of her brother’s former coven. He is not a nice man, and their interactions are deeply uncomfortably (deliberately so).

I quite enjoyed A Maze of Murder. I look forward to watching Belinda grow in self-confidence as she develops her magic and builds the family she deserves — while no doubt solving a few more mysteries along the way.

Recommended to fans of the Sonoma Witches series by Gretchen Galway, Bookshop Witch by T. Thorn Coyle, the Lily Singer series by Lydia Sherrer, and A Wiccan Wheel Mystery series by Jennifer David Hesse.

[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]