Reviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Reading a mystery novel is a little different for me than reading any other type of novel; I am allowed to participate as a voyeuristic sleuth. Unlike the characters in mystery novels, my life isn’t in constant jeopardy as I commit one thoughtless action after another in the hopes of bringing a murderer to justice. I do not suffer sucker punches, bruises that make me look like rotten fruit, or any other sort of physical harm. In Andrea Sisco’s A Deadly Habit, Penelope Santucci endures all that and more in an effort to clear her name as the prime suspect in her ex-husband’s murder.

Penelope, a probation officer, should know better than anyone that she shouldn’t break into people’s homes (even if the home used to be hers and she desperately needs to retrieve her first edition of A is for Alibi, hide her identity when reporting a murder scene, or tamper with evidence when she unknowingly gets her fingerprints on the murder weapon.

Instead of asserting her innocence, Penelope runs from the scene of the crime and dodges a police officer when asked to come in for questioning. She finds herself turning to the familiarity of a favorite childhood play area, Father Daniel Kopecky’s confessional. As a child, Penelope’s fondest desire had been to become a nun, despite her Protestant upbringing. Having always had a soft spot for Penelope, Father Daniel joins Penelope in the search for the truth behind Paul’s tragic demise. Sexy attorney Marco Silva owes Father Daniel a favor, and gets more than he can bargain for when he agrees to represent Penelope. To make matters even worse, Penelope stumbles on a stash of cash in her ex’s safe, and two criminals are hot on her trail to recover their loot.

The perfect mystery novel is a combination of romance, a large cast of possible suspects, and a believable heroine. It is only well into the second half of the novel that Penelope even seems to notice how stunning her lawyer really is. Disappointingly, no sparks fly between the two in this Santucci mystery, which no doubt will have fans of A Deadly Habit longing for more.

On my suspect list were a meager four characters, none of which strongly stood out as the murderer. Instead of letting the reader decide for oneself with subtly worded hints, Sisco tells you exactly who is suspect: “Why had they always disliked each other? Was it enough of a reason for Jack to murder Paul?” (p. 149) Not so shockingly, the actual murderer wasn’t even a contender on my list. Penelope herself is loosely based on Andrea Sisco, who formerly worked as a probation officer. Some may find Penelope a likable and hilarious protagonist, but others will wonder how the flighty firecracker has managed to keep her job.

Though Paul’s murder is solved and Penelope’s name is cleared, A Deadly Habit still leaves one unraveled thread: Why exactly did Marco owe Father Daniel a favor? I for one am looking forward to this answer and more in future Penelope Santucci mysteries.

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.