My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you would like to get into the Bethancourt-Gibbons mysteries by Cassandra Chan–an activity I’d highly recommend–then Book 4, A Spider on the Stairs, is probably not the place to do it. On the one hand, Chan does a good job of making each story self-contained, and it’s not a huge detriment if you come in at this point of the series. But on the other hand, events in the earlier books do influence the ones in this one, and I certainly found my ability to enjoy this story enhanced by knowing what had come before.
In this particular installment of the series, “what had come before” is Jack Gibbons’ getting shot in Book 3. A Spider on the Stairs is the first we see of him after he’s returned to active duty, trying to nail down whether a particular recent murder is the work of a serial killer at large. Meanwhile, Bethancourt has to deal with a trial of his own: his family over the Christmas holidays. Fortunately for these lucky boys, a new case quickly distracts them both: whether a bookshop employee found strangled on Christmas morning is the work of that same killer.
Overall I liked this one quite a bit. The bookshop murder is (for reasons that ought to be obvious) strongly Relevant to My Interests, but just as fun is getting to see Bethancourt having to deal with his family. On a somewhat more serious note, it’s also good strong character development to see both Bethancourt and Gibbons needing to regain their footing now that the latter is back on active duty. As with previous books in the series, there are several nicely portrayed side characters to populate the list of suspects–and of course, this being a mystery novel, the employees of the bookshop have far more drama in their backstories than meets the immediate eye. So yeah, good fun. Four stars.