The Big Brush-Off (Jake & Laura, #4) Review
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For the first books in his Jake and Laura series, author Michael Murphy seamlessly blended fact and fiction into fun-filled historical mysteries. But in his latest mystery, The Big Brush-Off, the characters take a step back from the hustle and bustle of their busy lives, taking the series in an unexpected direction in the process.

The story finds detective turned mystery writer Jake Donovan fighting to keep his career alive. After throwing out his latest attempt at a Blackie Doyle novel, Jake’s editor gives him just one more chance: revive your character, or there won’t be a new contract. She blames Jake’s new wife, actress Laura Wilson, and their busy new Hollywood lifestyle, and she encourages him to take some time away. So when a former client comes to ask for his help, Jake retreats to a small Pennsylvania town to work on his novel—and maybe solve a 10-year-old case.

The Big Brush-Off finds two different literary series in transition. Jake’s recent distractions—marriage, Hollywood drama, and a couple of mysteries to solve—have kept him from concentrating on his beloved gumshoe, Blackie Doyle. He’s lost his focus and his passion, and he needs to step away from the activity and drama of his everyday life to rediscover his literary roots.

In much the same way, with the latest installment, Murphy’s Jake and Laura series has also taken an unexpected turn. Earlier books in the series have blended historical touches into the fictional mysteries, letting the characters mingle with old Hollywood celebrities and other historical figures—and that history/mystery mix gave the series its delightful personality.

This time around, however, the historical figures are nowhere to be found, and as Jake tries to get back to the basics and reconnect with his character, he and Laura spend their time among the residents of a small, close-knit community. The people of Hanover are intriguing in their own way, but this new approach is surprising—and it changes the tone of the novel. On one hand, it allows the main characters to take center stage. They work together to solve the latest mystery—and, once again, their differing approaches complement one another perfectly, with Laura’s people skills and acting abilities doing what Jake’s old-school detecting skills can’t.

Still, without the historical touches and well-known characters, The Big Brush-Off loses some of its edge. It simply doesn’t have the same appeal. Even the author seems a bit lost, occasionally repeating the same phrases while telling the story. Fortunately, this latest Jake and Laura Mystery still makes for an enjoyable light read—and, better yet, the book’s conclusion suggests that the series will get back on track with the next installment.

If you love the historical touches of Murphy’s mystery series, you’ll definitely feel like something’s missing here. But the light mystery and likable characters should still be enough to tide you over till the next installment.

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