So, let me start with a disclaimer. Yes, I know the author of the Penelope Hazard books. Well in fact. He is my husband. I’m pretty sure I would love these books anyway. But, there. That’s out of the way.
With the second installment of Penelope Hazard now on the stands (or in print and digitized), it’s time to review these books. In this mystery series, author, J. Grant Fiero, masterfully blends mystery with just a dash of sci-fi. Not too many authors blend these genres, and for that reason alone, I think the Penelope Hazard books are unique and offer a quirky twist to the typical mystery formula. Now, it would help if you also read Fiero’s overlapping Sci-Fi series, known as the Rider books. There are four Rider books so far: Waking the Rider, The Light of Gylfa, Finding Alex, and Prisoners of the Mountain. The fifth and final installment of the Rider books is due out sometime next year. Penelope Hazard takes place on Earth, in this dimension. But the hints and clues dropped about some strange happenings will make more sense if you’ve read the Rider books. We don’t quite know how Penelope and her crew will fit in with the Rider universe, but we know they do somehow and will hopefully discover more clues with the third Penelope Hazard installment due out later this year.
Back to the Penelope mystery series. Not only is this series unique for its cross-genre subject matter, but it is unique in the interplay between main characters/amateur sleuths, Penelope and Bags. Penelope is a fifteen year-old who recently moved with her parents to a gated Florida community, St. Georges, populated primarily by residents over 65. Bags is Harvard Miriam Bagwell, a 70+ resident of St. George who becomes Penelope’s “adopted grandfather”. The teen and senior strike up a friendship and Penelope ends of helping with Bags’ production of the social club’s “Murder Mystery” event. When the event ends with an actual murder, Penelope and Bags join forces to find out who did it. Their investigation takes the reader on quite a few twists and turns, involving drug smuggling, affairs, and clandestine meetings – all in the supposedly quiet, nothing-new-happens here St. Georges. The interaction between the 15 year old and the 70+ year old is refreshing, different and, most of all — thanks, likely, to the author’s own teenage daughter — it rings true. The book is narrated from Penelope’s point of view and has an appeal to the younger set. But, it also appeals to the senior set and to the somewhere in the middle set based on my anecdotal evidence.
I won’t spoil the ending, but The True Stories of the (Mostly) Flawless Penelope Hazard was a fun, taut mystery that left me wanting to read more about Penelope and her senior posse.
And, that is where Penelope Hazard’s (so not) Flawless Mountain Getaway comes in. This second installment of the Penelope series finds Penelope and Bags at a Colorado mountain resort, guests of the Wilhight’s, their St. Georges neighbors and corporate leadership developers extraordinaire. The Wilhights have gathered some of the country’s top executives together for a leadership retreat in Colorado, and have hired a “high maintenance” speaker to attend, who happens to be a good friend of Bags’. So Bags comes along to keep an eye on the speaker, and Penelope tags along to keep Bags company (and to decompress from their Florida murder investigation).
Book Two gives us the classic English-style murder with a body found at a remote mountain resort and a only handful of guests and staff who could have committed the crime. It has a satisfying pace and resolution, and Penelope’s interaction not only with Bags, but her new friend, Rocky, gives us a more extensive peek into the quirky inner workings of a teenage mind. As a parent of a teenager, it is somewhat scary.
But perhaps the best part of Book Two is the introduction of a new character, April, a kick-ass bodyguard with an altogether mysterious background. April quickly becomes Penelope’s new idol and offers the reader an even better look into the sci-fi world of J. Grant Fiero. Here, we get more than hints about the Rider universe. Penelope, Bags and April confront that world, and possibly some of the Rider characters, face-to-face. Without giving too much away (although the author holds back here as well), Penelope also learns that she has inexplicable premonitions that some bad is going to happen, and she learns that someone or something is after her Florida friends and maybe even her.
If you’re looking for a new twist on the classic mystery formula, the Penelope Hazard books are a must read. Happy Reading!