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Playing with Fire
A Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery #2
J. J. Cook

January 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-25245-1

Reviewed by Laura Hinds


Stella Griffin is the temporary Fire Chief in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee. The fire brigade is an all-volunteer group, working together under her leadership. Stella plans to move back to Chicago once she has the brigade all trained. However, situation after situation has given her pause for thought. Not the least of the “situations” is the ghost of former Fire Chief Eric Gamlyn, with whom she shares the Fire Chief’s cabin.

Stella is determined to find out exactly what happened when Eric died, 40 years prior. He was murdered, of that there is no doubt, but who killed him and why? As more information comes to light, and a retired police deputy, Mace Chum, is shot and killed, Stella begins to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Will she solve the murders before someone else is hurt? On the other hand, will someone take Stella right out of the equation?

J. J. Cook, the pen name for this book, is the writing team of Joyce and Jim Lavene. I enjoyed this book very much, as I frequently enjoy anything that the Lavenes write. They work so well together as a husband and wife team, and they manage to write many different mystery series as once. I admire them greatly.

I was thrilled that Stella’s parents and her cheating ex-fiancé came to Sweet Pepper, as they added more depth to Stella’s life story outside of Sweet Pepper. Although there was no way she’d go back to Doug, the ex-fiancé, Stella was torn about going back to family and friends and her job as a Fire Captain in Chicago. She missed all of that, but Sweet Pepper tugged at her heartstrings, as did the ghost of Eric Gamlyn!

The Lavenes, aka J. J. Cook, don’t usually wander into the territory of having the female protagonist being “too stupid to live,” something that irks me frequently with mysteries, but this time they strayed there. Fortunately, they found their way back quickly and there was a fast resolution to a dangerous situation.

The Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery series is fast-paced, and as exciting as a July 4 fireworks show! I love the series and look forward to the next book. While I wait, I may just try a recipe or two from the back of the book. The Red Pepper Fudge looks downright delicious!

Reviewed 2014