The Painted Ladies by Sylvia Dickey Smith

I have been a Sidra Smart Mystery fan since book one, so when this lovely author offered to send me a copy of her newest installment, I told her, “GIMMIE!” I love this series because it’s a departure from the tried-and-true cozy formula. You know the drill: wayward 30-something single gal in a small, touristy town finds a dead body and searches for clues with the hunky town sheriff. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy these formulaic thrillers; I just need a break from the monotony every once in a while.

Enter Sidra Smart! Unlike her young, single, unlucky-in-love counterparts, she’s a little older and wiser than the average sleuth. I hazard to say she’s on par with the great J.B. Fletcher!  You won’t find any love triangles or hunky detectives nagging her to stay out of the way.  Sidra’s not wasting her time with all that bologna. She’s a one-woman-show…well that’s if you’re not counting her ghostly brother and her pup Slider. And in this book, she’s got a mystery to solve on two planes: the earthly world and the great beyond.

It all begins when a newly orphaned young woman named Belle  enlists Sidra’s help in discovering the mysteries behind her mother’s three historic houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why would her mother keep those beautiful “Painted Ladies” under wraps for all these years? And why didn’t her father—a mega-church preacher/conman—ever mention this little family secret? Now the sole heir of her parents’ assets, Belle must get to the bottom of this mystery to discover what lies beneath her family’s gleaming facade.

Together, Belle and Sidra grab their pups and embark on a road trip from Dallas to Hot Springs. Side note: I’ve visited this charming little town and absolutely loved revisiting the historic bath houses, kitschy tourist shops and gangster museums through Sidra’s eyes. After reading this, I’m going to bug Jarred into taking me back there so I can prowl around the majestic Arlington Hotel with my ghost radar app!

Back to the story! So along their journey, they meet some colorful characters, including a reclusive old woman who lives alone in a hut-like cottage near the three Painted Ladies. While speaking with the locals, Bella and Sidra learn that these houses have quite the reputation! Don’t be fooled by their cheery, colorful exteriors, they aren’t happy about visitors and they’ll let you know when it’s time to get out! In fact, the Painted Ladies have voices and personalities of their own–and boy can those walls talk!  This time, someone is going to stick around long enough to hear them out. It’s going to take a lot more than a few bumps in the night to scare Sidra Smart away!

I’ll stop right here before I give away any spoilers, but I will say that you’ll learn some fun trivia facts about Hot Springs history. And while unearthing (literally) clues to Bella’s family history, Sidra discovers a doozy about her own lineage as well. Oh such fun!

A big thanks to Miss Dickey Smith for sending me a free copy in return for an honest review. It was a pleasure, as always, accompanying Sidra and her hound Slider on their latest adventure. I look forward to the next installment and hope to see more of the new ghostly sidekick since I’m not sure if this entity is a friend or foe!

“Third Eye” Mystery Series: “Deadly Sins, Deadly Secrets” and “Dead Wreckoning”

Last Halloween I wandered into a random book tent at the Texas Book Festival and found myself chatting with Sylvia Dickey Smith, author of  the “Third Eye” mystery book series. Won over by her sweet southern charm, I bought a copy of  “Deadly Sins, Deadly Secrets,” stashed it in my bag of books and moseyed on my way in hopes of bumping into one of my favorite Texas authors. Not expecting too much from an unknown mystery author, I decided to scan the first couple pages just to see if it was worth my time. Fifty pages later, I found myself fully immersed in an absorbing world of romance, mystery and (be still my heart!) ghosts.

Move over Stephanie Plum and Annie Darling because there’s a new sassy sleuth on the scene and boy is she a firecracker! After escaping decades of confinement as a preacher’s wife, Sidra Smart returns to her sleepy East Texas hamlet to take over the reigns of her dead brother’s “Third Eye” detective agency. Just when she starts to get her bearings, her office burns to the ground and her apartment is yanked out from under her. With an empty wallet and limited options, Sidra has no alternative but to room with her endearingly neurotic aunt in a spooky 19th century haunted house. Just when life couldn’t get more complicated, she befriends a crotchety geezer in desperate need of proving his son’s innocence in a grizzly murder case. With a little help from a ghostly sidekick, a lanky, floppy-eared hound, a meddlesome aunt, and a trusty Cajun-tongued detective, Sidra combs through a lurid web of secrets, lies and deceit.

In the third installment of Smith’s mystery series, “Dead Wreckoning,” Sidra finds herself in a boatload of trouble – pun intended! Strapped for cash and in desperate need of a paying client, the last thing Sidra needs is a pro-bono case. But when Boo, a cantankerous old recluse who resides in the bellows of the Big Thicket, is framed for a murder involving a ghost ship and modern-day pirates – how could Sidra say no? Against the wishes of her mentor, George Leger, and her protective fiancé,  the ferociously independent PI probes into the case and finds that even the people she trusts the most are not who they appear to be. Steeped in a humid, eerie deep south atmosphere, “Dead Wreckoning” is a solid who-done-it rife with all my favorite elements – loveable furry companions, ghosts, mystery and romance! 

Smith, who has now been added to my dirty dozen of top mystery authors, has created a charming and winning character in Sidra Smart. With her atmospheric descriptions of rural East Texas, and character-driven plots, she has a real knack for crafting a quality thriller.