The concept for this book - Stirring Up Strife: A Hope Street Church Mystery - is what caused me to pick it up - it's unique for its genre, and also largely untapped within literature.
Heroine Cooper Lee is a 30-something with an unusual job; she repairs copiers and other office machines. Like many people of her generation, she's long ago left church behind, despite being raised in an at least somewhat religious family, where weekly church attendance is simply part of the landscape of life.
At one of her work sites, seemingly by chance, Cooper meets a very friendly and genuine churchgoer who invites her to attend her church. Cooper decides to take her up on her offer, but she turns up an hour too early and ends up in a Bible study group meeting. This group is a mix of eclectic characters who would have little to do with each other, if it were not for their shared faith: a real estate diva, a rich banker, a blind artist, and a computer geek, among others. However, their authentic friendship attracts Cooper despite her misgivings about getting too involved with a church, and she sticks, becoming a supporting and supported member of the group.
Speaking from many years of church experience, both good and bad, I can say that Cooper's experience rings true - especially her reluctance, shyness, and indecision about re-joining a church. In addition, the Bible study group characters come across as real people that you might find in a church, with very real strengths, quirks, and blind spots.
Unfortunately, though, the mystery itself turns a bit formulaic, with the characters acting in stereotypical and unbelievable ways with respect to the actual solving of the murder. The bright spot, though, is that through it all, the characters keep their integrity - hopefully a sign of good things to come as the series progresses.
I would especially recommend this light read to people who are thinking of coming back to church and wonder what the journey might be like (hopefully theirs won't involve a murder, of course!). And long-time church people would do well to read this book, too, to "experience" Cooper's tentative first steps on her faith journey back to church.
Concept & characters: 5 stars
Mystery storyline itself: 3 stars
Overall: 4 stars
-written by J