Death Makes the Cut Review
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In her debut novel, 2011’s Death on Tour, author Janice Hamrick took readers on a fascinating and fun-filled tour of Egypt while introducing mystery-solving history teacher Jocelyn Shore. But now, with the follow-up, Death Makes the Cut, her characters return home to Austin, Texas, for a mystery that falls victim to the old sophomore slump.

On the first day of the new school year, Jocelyn is eager to get to class and settle back into her daily routine—but before the day even begins, she finds herself face-to-face with the dead body of her friend and colleague Fred Argus.

Fred was a good guy, so Jocelyn is shocked when handsome Detective Colin Gallagher begins investigating the death as a murder. She’s even more shocked when he suggests that Fred may have been selling drugs to students.

But Jocelyn has even more to worry about. Not only is she trying to help Detective Gallagher hunt down Fred’s killer, but the school principal has also talked her into filling Fred’s role as the school’s tennis coach—and, between practices, she’s struggling with her long-distance relationship with boyfriend Alan.

As she did with Death on Tour, Hamrick loads Death Makes the Cut with storylines and suspicious characters. While most high schools have their share of glitches and even a few fiascos, Jocelyn’s school has murdered teachers, irate parents, a crazed drama department, and a major Hollywood director filming on-site. The school’s flurry of activity definitely keeps things interesting—and it makes the pages fly by.

Still, Death Makes the Cut simply doesn’t have the same appeal as its predecessor. After all, the charm of Death on Tour came from its exotic Egyptian setting. Without that setting—without the mystique of the desert and the pyramids—the series loses its hook. Now, set in a Texas high school, it feels a little too much like every other cozy mystery series.

In fact, Death Makes the Cut couldn’t be a whole lot less like the first book in the series. Some of the characters are the same—Jocelyn, of course, and her obnoxiously gorgeous cousin, Kyla—but even Alan generally stays out of sight. For most of the book, he’s on a tour in Italy—and, when he comes home, he becomes one rather whiny and wishy-washy leg in a frustrating love triangle. For some reason, average girl Jocelyn is the object of the persistent (and sometimes almost desperate) affections of two handsome, successful, thoughtful men, who spend way too much time competing for her attention—yet she refuses to accept that either one is truly interested in her, which makes her seem more than just a little bit clueless.

Filled with murder and mayhem and madcap adventures, Death Makes the Cut still makes a light and entertaining read—an easy-going whodunit that’s fit for poolside enjoyment. But, unfortunately, Jocelyn Shore’s day-to-day life isn’t nearly as interesting as her Egyptian travels were.

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