A Curious Visit by Jess Lea is a romantic mystery with two main characters as reluctant heroes that give up their holiday to save the day.
While on holiday in Tasmania Margaret gets a mysterious message from a woman from her past. A small detour from their holiday plans to a small town in Tasmania sees Margaret and Bess caught up in mystery. They find themselves mixed up with oddball locals, missing antiques, and a sinister old house that seems to have a life of its own. Margaret and Bess see their relationship tested as they try to make a choice between getting involved and walking away. Neither wants to stay but both are torn.
I adore this author’s writing style, it’s not only witty and funny but it’s insightful and really helps you to get lost in the character’s heads.
Lea has a way of describing places, settings, and objects that transports you there, holds you in a situation, and makes you see and feel things. I reread a few passages from this book because I loved getting lost in the beautiful descriptive writing.
Pros And My Favourite Parts
This book is the second in the series Murder Under The Gum Trees, it can be read as a standalone but why deny yourself the pleasure of reading A Curious Woman first? The reason I’m mentioning this is because knowing these characters made the start of the book laugh out loud funny. Margaret’s entrance is perfect, and it was definitely enhanced by knowing her personality.
Margaret Gale is super frosty so I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I love her. she takes no nonsense, does not partake in social niceties unless she absolutely has to, and does not hesitate to speak her mind. What I love about her in this book is that she is still icy, aloof, and dismissive but because she has already been melted by Bess, we also get to see that softer side that is reserved just for Bess, and oh, how delicious that is to witness. Margaret is head over heels in love, she still has things to work through but her commitment and loyalty to Bess are strong *sighs- she had me swooning several times.
Bess is both super sweet and extremely strong-willed. Don’t be fooled by her relaxed hippy ways. This woman will chew you up and spit you out if needed, but of course, she will apologise and explain why after the event. Bess is one of those characters that instantly makes you sit up and pay attention. She’s quirky, fun, and has a great moral compass, she’s not afraid of hard work both in her personal and professional life, and if something is worth doing then you can bet she’s going to give it her all.
These two women couldn’t be more different in the way they approach life, yet they work, and they gel and mold together. They compromise and learn from one another; sure, they have rough patches but you can feel that at their core they are each other’s ‘person’ and that made the romantic subplot in this book heavenly.
This book is a romantic mystery, and the mystery is imaginative and layered. There’s an array of characters involved that kept throwing me off the trail and leaving me second-guessing, there were a few moments when I thought I’d worked it out only to be proven wrong. I love solving puzzles and this book had me hooked with the why and the how, I thought I’d worked out the who but nope I was wrong! The author did a great job, leaving me guessing until the big reveal and I loved it.
The author also manages to make the town and especially the creepy mansion (crossroads house) characters in this book, the story revolves around them and I relished getting to know them as the story developed.
This book is a mystery so there is some mild violence and light descriptions of violent crimes that lead to deaths. No main characters are killed.
This is the second book in the series Murder Under The Gum Trees, it can be read as a standalone but the first book is fantastic if you wish to read it.
I didn’t want this book to end, I even went back and re-read the beginning because I enjoyed it so much. It’s one of those books that simultaneously made me want to race to the end, but slow down because once I reached the conclusion then I just knew I wouldn’t want it to be over. This book has given me a book hangover and left me at a loss as to what to read next. It’s light on the anguish but filled with mystery and intrigue that kept me engrossed. It’s sweet, funny, and quirky but there are moments of suspense that made me want to cover my eyes (not a good idea when reading!). I’ll definitely be revisiting this book in the future.
I love this story, it has so many elements that work so well together. The mystery and romance are perfectly interwoven each affecting the other with their twists, turns, and conclusion. There are villains to loath and reluctant heroes to cheer on. The setting is beautiful, and this author excels at describing the world around the characters and transporting you there. I was scrambling through the bush, sitting in a musty room in a creepy house, and standing on the rocks feeling the spray from the sea on my face, all without leaving my cozy reading spot. If you love a mystery surrounding a romance, then this one is for you. But before you read it, if you haven’t yet done so then read A Curious Woman because although this book can easily be read as a standalone why would you not want to spend as much time with these characters as possible?
Excerpt from A Curious Visit by Jess Lea
Bess Campbell adjusted her rainbow coat made of recycled plastics, then pulled on her emerald-green woolly hat. She’d knitted it herself in the shape of a Viking’s helmet, and it made a striking contrast with her red hair. If there were spirits haunting this place, why not give them some colour to enjoy? They spent enough time in darkness.
She said that to the guide leading the ghost tour, but he gave her a funny look.
The guide shone his lantern at the display wall. It was engraved with names: Martha. Maria. Susannah. Eliza. Ann. Few other details were known. She wondered what it said on the women’s tombstones, if they had them.
Shivering, Bess thrust her hands into her coat pockets and stamped her feet against the flagstones. No moon tonight. Icy breezes whipped across the yard, plastering her skirt to her legs. Normally, Bess liked being outdoors; she loved nature, found it invigorating. But she wasn’t sure about this place.
The prison walls were high, made of rugged sandstone. Weeds grew through the cracks. Behind her was the site of the old punishment cells. They had no windows, just small, rough vents too high to see out. Women condemned to those cells had to climb down underground, into the earth.
“That was a lesson,” the guide explained, “to show them where they were headed in the next life if they kept breaking the rules.”
There had been a lot of rules in the women’s penitentiary built here in Tasmania in the 1820s, back when the island off Australia’s mainland was still called Van Diemen’s Land: an infamously wild, cold, and dangerous prison colony at the edge of the world.
A woman could be punished for not working hard enough when washing laundry with frozen hands. She could be punished for swearing, or falling asleep in chapel, or eating more than her share of bread, or sharing her sleeping hammock too enthusiastically with another woman.
Talking was discouraged too. Visitors to the prison remarked on how the women and children moved about the place in silence, like ghosts.
While the story disturbed her, Bess longed to see a ghost. Or a bunyip or a UFO—anything unearthly and hard to explain. She’d always been drawn to the colourful side of life, to anything whacky, creative, and eccentric. That was why she had moved to the kooky small town of Port Bannir three years ago—to work in a quirky gallery and live in a tiny house in a field. But then her lovable boss had been killed and the gallery taken over by new managers who didn’t like Bess at all. A year ago, they’d transferred her to the promotions team in their Melbourne office.
While city life was convenient in some ways, Bess knew her employers were sidelining her. After months of spreadsheets and Zoom meetings, her spirit felt starved. She missed her old job. She missed her beloved chickens, now living with her brother. Most of all, she missed the sense of adventure she used to feel every day.
This trip around Tasmania might help. Bess needed wilderness and beauty and strangeness in her life again.
The guide held up his lantern. “Through here were the nurseries. Hundreds of babies were kept crowded inside, neglected and half-starved. Those who survived were snatched from their mothers and sent away to the orphan school. They say some nights, when the wind blows down from the mountain, you can hear the screaming.”
Bess pulled her coat tighter, her skin creeping. Maybe she didn’t want to meet the spirits of this place after all. Could suffering, despair, and anger be so strong that they left an imprint on the locations where they occurred?
The guide began to talk about the women who’d been imprisoned here—thieves, poisoners, arsonists—and the sinister matrons who controlled them.
“You see where that cell is marked on the ground at the end? Once we had a blind visitor whose guide dog refused to go inside. And over there by the staircase? People complain that the photographs they take of that spot don’t turn out. All they get is a dark image.” The guide lowered his lantern. “I brought my daughter here when she was five. I left her alone while I went to fetch something. When I came back, I found her crying. She said a woman in black had been angry with her. But there was no one there but us.”
A door banged. The woman beside Bess jumped and let out a muffled shriek. The guide’s lantern swayed, light and shadows lapping across the walls. Footsteps rang out against the flagstones.
The guests bunched up together like an anxious herd. Those footsteps were coming closer. People whispered, “Is this part of it?”
Bess stepped forward. She didn’t want to miss anything.
The gate to the yard flew open. A black silhouette stood against the gloom. She was tall and lean, and the air around her seemed to hum with a strange energy.
In the dim light, her face appeared as white and angular as fresh-cut marble above her black clothing. Her features were strong with a certain stark beauty; her eyes were shadowy, her hair jet black. Her long fingers flexed as if searching for a neck to wrap around.
She stepped forward. Her gaze swept the crowd, her dark eyes glinting malevolently. “Would the owner of a blue Nissan Pulsar, numberplate XIR679, move it immediately, as it is taking up two spaces.”
Bess bit her lip, fighting not to laugh.
“If you’d done that at my museum, you would have been banned,” Margaret Gale said.
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Series: Murder Under The Gum Trees
A Curious Woman
A Curious Visit
Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 978-3963247798
Publisher: Ylva Publishing
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