Justice House Publishing
Forty years old and a prominent businesswoman in her town, Kate Shannon is about to change her life. The owner and manager of Novel Companions, an independent bookshop in downtown, Truro, Nova Scotia, Kate has spent much of the last year becoming friends with a regular customer, Nikki Harris.
The 26 years old Nikki is a shy, intelligent, beautiful and openly lesbian woman struggling to survive small town life in the economically depressed Canadian Maritimes. A book lover, Nikki enjoys the cozy atmosphere of Novel Companions, especially since Kate started carrying gay and lesbian fiction. She also enjoys the detailed discussions with Kate of novel plots, characters, favorite authors and related political themes. In fact, Nikki has become painfully aware that she is quite attracted to Kate and has recently cut down on her time at the bookstore, in hopes of weaning her affections away from the charming, presumably straight, owner. A bleak February is looming long and lonely for Nikki.
When the insurance office across the street from the bookshop burns down one night, Nikki rushes to the scene to make certain it's not Novel Companions. A perplexed Kate had noticed the new distance from Nikki. Seeing Nikki standing out in the cold, Kate invites the young woman into her apartment above Novel Companions. The two women watch the fire and begin to speculate about its origin.
Nikki's natural curiosity is piqued when the body of Sam Madison, the owner of the insurance office, is found in the ashes. She convinces Kate to help her investigate the fire. Kate, willing to go along with an opportunity to spend more time with Nikki, agrees to help. Unexpected Sparks is a classic armchair mystery with old fashioned, timeless clues and important character revelations leading Nikki and Kate to answer the questions of why and how Sam ended up in the burning office.
Via their amateur sleuthing project, Kate and Nikki find themselves drawing closer together. Their attraction and developing romance is another theme of Unexpected Sparks. Dartt illustrates falling in love and coming out in a charming and touching manner with respect and humor for her characters. Indeed, her characterization is realistic and perceptive. The elegant and composed Kate is surprised and delighted by the depth and range of the emotions she feels for Nikki. She is also startled by the attention, positive and negative, from customers, friends and neighbors as they begin to hear about her new lavender relationship. Dartt's Truro setting is nicely detailed and provides insight into Canadian small town life, particularly for lesbians.
Unexpected Sparks is Dartt's first novel and there are some elements that could be explored more. Several aspects of Nikki's past are still a mystery and readers who know Dartt's Star Trek fan fiction stories might be surprised at the slightly reticent quality of her love scenes. However, these details are minor and take nothing away from one's pleasure in the story. In fact, the possibilities for just such future revelations have this reader looking forward to the next two Kate and Nikki mysteries. In the meanwhile, if you enjoy armchair mysteries with a lovely lavender flair, pick up a copy of Unexpected Sparks. This book is a perfect cozy evening read.
BN: Unexpected Sparks was re-released by Bold Strokes Books in 2006 and has been followed by Unexpected Ties.