Review: Cliff Hanger by Mary Feliz

The publisher’s summary of Cliff Hanger (A Maggie McDonald Mystery, #5) by Mary Feliz:

Maggie has her work cut out for her helping Renée Alvarez organize her property management office. Though the condominium complex boasts a prime location on the shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, aging buildings and the high-maintenance tenants have Renée run ragged. But Maggie’s efforts are complicated when her sons attempt to rescue a badly injured man who crashed his ultra-light on the coastal cliffs.
Despite their efforts to save him, the man dies. Maggie’s family members become the prime suspects in a murder investigation and the target of a lawsuit. Her instincts say something’s out of place, but solving a murder won’t be easy. Maggie still needs to manage her business, the pushy press, and unwanted interest from criminal elements. Controlling chaos is her specialty, but with this killer’s crime wave, Maggie may be left hanging . . .

Last month the Mystery Review Crew asked me to review Cliff Hanger. Because I was jumping into Maggie McDonald’s world so far into the series, I hoped I wouldn’t be lost as far as not knowing the characters. Fortunately, the characters are well-drawn and I easily followed the players without a scorecard.

There are some good points to Cliff Hanger:

First, the location. The author’s detailed descriptions of the beach and its surroundings drew me into their summer working vacation. Because I once lived in the Monterey Bay area, reading this book felt like coming home. I remember always having a sweatshirt nearby, even in summer. As she described Maggie’s boys scrabbling up a cliff face from the beach to help an injured ultralight pilot, I felt the wind in my hair and the sand between my toes.

When the book opened with newly minted driver David navigating an unfamiliar road on the way to the family’s vacation condo, my fingers reflexively clenched as I flashbacked to this rite of passage with my own son.

It is a joy to spend time with the McDonald family. Maggie and her husband Max are not only loving parents, but equal partners. Here there is no divorce, no affairs, no name calling, but her family is not perfect. The boys fight and their parents referee, yet there is always an undercurrent of love. Since many cozies have main characters who are divorced, widowed, or otherwise unattached with children, a healthy, intact family is refreshing.

What I didn’t like about the book, however, kept me from fully investing in the characters. Surprisingly, Maggie and Max allow their teen sons to walk into highly dangerous situations as they help solve the murder. Trips to the emergency room seem to be an uneventful occurrence (which makes me wonder how often those boys end up in the hospital in the earlier books). Also, allowing the boys to hide out on a beach to watch for possible drug smugglers also crossed the line. I don’t care how many adults you have hiding in the sand with them, nighttime reconnaissance of a cartel is not a good hobby for your children. As a mama bear myself, I find her willingness to let the boys interrogate suspects and monitor bad guys unrealistic.

That is my only criticism of Cliff Hanger. Mary Feliz’s writing is smart and the plot is well crafted with many turns. There were several times when I thought I knew who dunnit, only to have my own theories dashed.

At the end of the day, in spite of questionable parenting decisions, keeping the reader guessing is the sign of a good mystery.

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