A POTION TO DIE FOR (#1)
ONE POTION IN THE GRAVE (#2)
GHOST OF A POTION (#3)
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: Cozy Mystery, Paranormal
★★★☆ – ★★★★
A POTION TO DIE FOR
As the owner of Little Shop of Potions, a magic potion shop specializing in love potions, Carly Bell Hartwell finds her product more in demand than ever. A local soothsayer has predicted that a couple in town will soon divorce—and now it seems every married person in Hitching Post, Alabama, wants a little extra matrimonial magic to make sure they stay hitched.
But when Carly finds a dead man in her shop, clutching one of her potion bottles, she goes from most popular potion person to public enemy number one. In no time the murder investigation becomes a witch hunt—literally! Now Carly is going to need to brew up some serious sleuthing skills to clear her name and find the real killer—before the whole town becomes convinced her potions really are to die for!
I read the first book in this series, A Potion to Die For, as part of kthe Twitter Cosy Mystery Book Club run by
@writerahart and @courtagonist. The characters, and fun, caught my interests enough that I read the remaining books in the trilogy, One Potion in the Grave and Ghost of a Potion, within the next week or so.
In this series the main character is Carly Bell Hartwell. Carly lives in Hitching Post, Alabama, a town obsessed with weddings. She’s the proprietor of the long-standing family business Little Shop of Potions. Carly also has the power to sense other people’s emotions and illnesses, and supplies her little town with potions to help heal them emotionally and physically.
One of the things that I really liked about this series was that the magical elements that were smoothly worked in. The fact that Carly is a witch (and and her magical talents) are never really at the forefront of the story — the author is careful to prevent this from just becoming a fantasy novel — the mystery is the main focus, but the magic usually always plays a significant part. One of the things I really enjoyed at the first and second books was that the magic, in a way, was kind of open to interpretation by the other characters. We, as the readers, know that Carly’s potions and telepathy are real, but the characters don’t necessarily know if their getting just herbal remedies or whatever. The third book brings the paranormal elements further to the forefront, adding in ghosts and centring Carly’s investigation around them.
The supporting cast, and most of the residents of Hitching Post, are really quirky and zany, and interesting. There’s a couple of really great relationships in the series. Obviously different secondary characters were more or less important in different books, but two of my favourites were Delia and Dylan. Delia is Carly’s competitor and cousin, who runs a rival potion shop, selling hexes rather than healing. I really liked the animosity between them at the very start of the first book, and how this develops into a really supportive relationship over the series. Dylan is Carly’s ex, and we come into the relationship after they’ve already been through quite a lot. They’ve had two attempted weddings, both of which have ended in disaster, been apart for a while, and now they’ve been flung back together in this small town. Again, I liked the way that this relationship developed. At the start we see both failed weddings as Dylan’s fault, and we’re set up to think of him as a bad guy. But, over the course of the first book, we realise that there was fault on both sides and that Dylan’s actually pretty great. There’s a really nice slow build over the course of the books (which I thought was very believable) as Carly slowly reevaluates her opinion of their relationship.
I really liked the mystery angle of the first book and thought it was well written — the clues were there once you knew the killer, but it wasn’t obvious. I didn’t think the mystery in books two and three were as strong. In book two, I pretty much guessed the killer very early on, and in book three the mystery was a bit convoluted, with the solution coming a little out of left field. However, the characters and the community, by that point, were more than enough to keep me invested and keep me reading.
I had a few problems with the consent issues around the way Carly can just dip in-and-out of people’s feelings whenever she chooses (it’s not quite mind-reading, but she uses it to investigate so it’s not far off) but it was a minor nitpick. I did like the thought the author had put into the way in which the potions side of it worked, but I would have loved to see a little more world building on the magical elements in general.
Unfortunately, at this point in time, book three — Ghost of a Potion — is the last book in the series. I think, if Heather Blake were to continue the Magic Potion Mystery series, I would be very happy to continue with it.
On a side note, you should definitely check out the cover art on these books, because they are really gorgeous. The colours are vivid and there’s quite a lot of detail in them. They had a really nice illustrative style which I adore. I’d absolutely love to see more of the illustrator’s work.