Violet Parker - single mother to nine year old Fraternal twins Adelynn and Layne - has just returned to her home town of Deadwood, staying with her aunt Zoe, for her new job as a realtor at Calamity Jane's Realty. Her new boss, Jane Grimes, and Violet's acting mentor Mona are both really nice and helpful, as she finds her feet and tries to find a balance between her new professional life and her home life.
However; Violet better not get too comfy as Calamity Jane's star realtor, Ray Underhill, hasn't taken to Violet or her non-existent sales tally, so is pushing for her to be fired. He wants her job to be given to his nephew and if Violet doesn't make a sale within a month, he may indeed get to work alongside his nephew. But how far will Ray go to get rid of Violet?
Violet does have two clients with houses to sell and also lands someone wanting to buy a house. The bad news is that both the old ranch belonging to the gun-toting, wrinkly Casanova Willis Harvey and the old family home of jewellery store owner Wolfgang Hessler are neglected and need renovating. Even if they were in tip top condition it isn't going to be easy to land a sale. Violet's buyer, Dane 'Doc' Nyce, doesn't actually seem to be in a rush to buy a house and he acts generally weird.
Violet hasn't just got the future of her job on her mind; there have also been several cases of young girls being snatched in the area. And wouldn't you know it? Little Addy is a perfect match to the kidnapper's preferred type and a strange man has made multiple visits to the girl as she plays in her front yard. And then there is the puzzle of a mystery admirer sending Violet little poems, which suggest that her mystery man is closely watching her.
So now we have a pressure cooker containing a child snatcher, a stalker, the fact that the two houses in her book aren't ready to be sold in the time frame she has, her only client who may buy a house is wasting time, Ray is looking forward to clearing her desk out, lonely Harvey is forcing his way into Violet's life as a unlikely friend and Wolfgang is making his romantic interest in her clear...
Violet is soon left wishing that she hadn't moved to Deadwood.
Violet was abandoned by her boyfriend when she discovered that she was pregnant, so has spent the last ten years living with her parents whilst raising twins, as well attending colleges part-time for the past few years. This means that I can understand Violet's motivations for her actions throughout the book; usually I end up getting frustrated by lead characters inviting the trouble to themselves, by shoving their noses into other peoples business, but this time I can see her fear over her child's safety, over the future of her hard-earned job, and uneasiness over her newish independence in general.
The author has spent a great deal of time fleshing out the cast of secondary characters, so DEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD is more than a mystery; there is comedy, drama and romance as well. The book is in first person, but the other characters still manage to have independent lives and dramas, without the facts being recounted through Violet and the resulting conversations feeling forced, just for the point of filling the readers in. Harvey is a delight and Doc promises to bring shocks into future books.
On a similar note; I like how humorous the book is, and how smoothly the laugh-out-loud comments and scenes flow; they don't read like they have been inserted forcefully into the plot, just for the sake of a cheap giggle. Whilst Violet herself is funny without being portrayed as dumb, it is Harvey who steals scenes here. I wasn't sure what to think of him at first, but he makes a perfect inclusion for preventing the pace from dragging at certain points.
One of the book's biggest strengths is that it manages to weave in several threads, which will be parts of a few different ongoing story arcs. The basic plot opens and concludes in this one book, but these cleverly inserted threads offer intriguing glimpses into the directions of future books and they'll leave readers gagging for more.
I really want to give DEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD the full five stars since it is such a entertaining read, but I can't as I felt that the author was a bit too generous when it came to dropping clues. I figured out the whodunit with no trouble and it's not like I'm known for my observational skills. If anything, I'd be the most likely candidate to miss details, as I read fast and have trouble slowing my pace down.
And, whilst it didn't bother me, the plot does move slowly for the first third of the book. This is the first book in a series, so the author does spend a large part of the book introducing characters and describing Deadwood in general. I like all of the characters, so I enjoyed getting to know everyone, but if you don't take to any of the characters you'll find the pace frustrating.