Death of a Toy Soldier by Barbara Early
Excuse me while I run around like a kid in a toyshop writing this review for “Death of a Toy Soldier”. Oh wait; it takes place in an actual toyshop. Goodie, goodie for me. Finally, someone writes a book that I can relate to when it comes to my obsession with old toys, seeking them out and buying them. In this case, Liz McCall and her dad, Hank sell the toys at their amazing New York shop, Well Played. Fabulous name Barbara, fabulous!
Hank McCall is a retired police chief who has taken his hobby to the next level and opened a vintage toy shop and runs it with the help of his daughter Liz. All is well and good until a man who had visited the shop previously to check on the price of some super rare tin toys turns up dead in a pool of blood amongst the playful relics on the toy shop floor.
Hank is suffering amnesia from the night of the incident for an unknown reason and the McCalls are forced to try and put the pieces together to a puzzle that just gets weirder and weirder. Hoping to get her father off the hook and back into the store he has put his heart and soul in to, Liz turns to friends and family in order to try and figure out who the mystery man was who ended up dead in their store.
As if a game of Clue is in play, another man ends up dead who might be associated with the dead mystery man. The more they investigate, the more secrets are revealed about neighbors, friends and people they thought they knew. So, who did kill the man in the toy store with the dart. Yes, for sure a game of Clue is afoot.
The story did not stop the entire time. I was expecting a lull where I would lose interest and then have to force myself back into it because honestly, kids interrupt me while I am reading. There was never a problem picking up where I left off because the characters weren’t flat. I felt like I knew Liz, Hank, Cathy, Jack, Peggy and those adorable sisters, Irene and Lenora.
I was able to jump right back in and the story just kept developing in new dimensions. Right when I thought I was going one way, Barbara took me somewhere else. I loved it! The killer threw me for a loop however. I had two people that I just knew did it. I kept thinking, “Oh Barbara, you made this too easy. You tried to throw me off, but I caught you.” Nope, I was so wrong. I didn’t see that one coming at all.
If there was one complaint I had, it was that I didn’t get to see inside the doll room. She kept describing Cathy, the other worker, peaking out and such but the reader doesn’t get to go in. Do you know what that does to a doll person Barbara? I wanna go in!
This series is exciting for me and I hope the second book comes out quickly after the release of this one. What a great set of characters, setting and descriptive writing. I was hooked. If you love toys, collecting old vintage memorabilia and love a good mystery go ahead and order this book. You need it in your life like I need another doll. And I DO need another doll by the way….
BTB-Do you or have you ever collected vintage toys?
BE-At one time, I had quite a collection: a huge assortment of Fisher Price with all the original wooden Little People, an early Mr. Potato Head, a virtual fortune in real wood Lincoln Logs, and a pretty good selection of Pez dispensers. Colorforms. Slinkies. View Master with a bunch of disks. You may have already figured out where I’m going with this. This was forty some years ago. Most of them were passed down to younger cousins or siblings or sold by my mother at garage sales.
But no, I wasn’t a collector before I started writing the series. And except for a few fun pieces and some small things I’m using to decorate my Christmas tree, I’m trying to keep my collection on Pinterest. But, like Liz McCall, I am an avid board gamer, and I do own some vintage board games. Some I’ve bought used and others I’ve just had for long enough that they’re actually worth something–which is kind of sad, because it makes me hesitant to play them. And that’s their value for me.
But the fun part of the series is that you don’t have to be a collector or even an enthusiast to enjoy reading about the toys. They spark a lot of nostalgia. When we see pictures of, say, a Mrs. Beasley doll on Facebook, or a vintage Scooby Doo lunchbox we may have taken to school, those images inspire all kinds of feelings and memories. We all relate to toys. They were part of our childhood and are key parts of our formative memories.
BTB-How did you do research for “Death of a Toy Soldier”
BE-The idea for the series came from the town first. I’ve visited East Aurora (Yes, it’s a real place!) any number of times–it’s only a little over half an hour from my house. It’s such a quaint town, the kind you read about in cozy mysteries. It has brick-paved Main Street with every kind of store you might imagine in a cozy mystery: a quirky five-and-dime, a cupcake shop, a yarn shop, a vintage theater selling gourmet popcorn, a chocolate shop, and a variety of eateries, many with tables spilling out onto the sidewalk. There’s even an Amish furniture store. And yes, a toyshop. It carries a lot of classic toys, but it’s not a vintage toyshop.
But the whole town is truly darling. I supposed the normal reaction is to want to shop and sightsee. My first reaction was, what a great place for a murder!
So I really wanted to set a mystery there. When I searched the town’s history, I learned that it has long been called Toy Town, because of the manufacture of toys in the area. Fisher Price (now part of Mattel) still remains, but there were once a number of different toy manufacturers clustered around the town. Sad are the things I just missed: there used to be a toy parade and a toy museum. Neither of those exist any longer. But since I write fiction, I reserve the right to resurrect them.
When I started digging around a little more, I discovered that, while vintage toyshops are a little rare, dealers and collectors do a bit of trade at vintage toy shows, and I found a few in my area. They’re starting to recognize me, even though I do more talking and picture taking (with their permission) than actual buying. But going to the shows always feels more like play than research.
BTB-What inspired the name of the book?
BE-I never get to keep my titles. I thought I was going to be able to this time. The working title was MURDER WELL PLAYED. In my mind, it was perfect. Vintage toys. Well Played. And every title could have “play” in it, in some form. And that’s the title it was subbed as. But the publisher who bought it wanted to change it. They wanted something more visual–which I understood, at least as soon as I got over my initial disappointment. It was my agent who actually came up with the title, which resonated with the publisher right away–and led to some changes in the story to accommodate it. I wasn’t initially sold–but I’ve learned to trust the instincts of those with experience in the industry. They were so right! And then they came up with that cover, which is absolutely fantastic. I love those eyes! So each book will likely feature an iconic type of toy.
BTB-In the book, there is a lot about vintage games as they gather for a regular vintage game night in the toyshop. What is your favorite board game? Do you have a favorite piece you play, color, etc.?
BE-I have a lot of favorite board games, depending on my mood. Right now it’s a strategy game called Power Grid. I’m also fond of Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan. Those three have apps that allow me to play against the computer, which is nice because I like to play far more often than I can find people to play with. I also picked up another fun one called Liebrary, where you’re given the title and brief synopsis of a real book, and then all the players have to come up with a first line. Those lines get shuffled together with the real first line, and then everybody has to guess which one is genuine. As a writer, it can be a lot of fun. Sometimes, though, it starts feeling like work.
As far as playing pieces, I tend to pick green, for some reason. And in Monopoly, yeah, I like the racecar. Boring, I know.
BTB- There is a lot about family and trust in this book. Can you speak as to why this was such a heavy theme? It’s unusual to have a father and daughter sleuth team.
BE-When we start thinking about the toys of our childhood, we tend to think of the circumstances of our childhood. And I wanted Liz’s childhood to be interesting. (The opposite is boring, and nobody wants that.) Giving her an alcoholic parent was an easy choice for me. I can write that with authenticity, sadly. The strong bond between Liz and her father was born from this shared adversity. Their relationship wasn’t perfect, but they’re very much there for each other now. They have each other’s backs and are more alike than either would probably care to admit.
Perhaps it’s because I never had a close relationship to a father, I tend to explore this idea in fiction. The close relationship between Hank and Liz is more similar to the one my husband and our daughter share. It’s very sweet and fun to watch.
BTB-I have to ask about the monkey in the book because every time I read about it, it seemed to represent something inside of Liz that she was dealing with psychologically. Was the monkey used as a metaphor or am I over analyzing? Was the monkey just a monkey?
BE-Sometime a monkey is just a monkey. I’ve always found them a little freaky. But like Liz, sometimes I can get a little nervous around toys with eyes. It comes from that one Twilight episode with a talking doll, and then a made-for-TV horror movie about a killer doll–that I was too young to watch at the time. I still have a low tolerance for horror, unless it’s something campy, like Sharknado.
But those early experiences gave me a bit of a doll phobia myself–nothing too severe–which I’ve given to Liz, because it’s a fun problem to have if you work with them every day.
BTB-So, I know we are just now getting a taste for this book, but anything you want to reveal about the next one? Can we expect to go into the doll room….yes? no? Hahaha! I really wanna go in.
BE-Crooked Lane contracted three books, so I’m writing the second one now, which takes place at a model train and toy show. And model trains are such iconic toys. (Although there’s a lot of adults who would cringe at me calling them toys.) The working title which, given my track record (pun unintended) will probably change, is Strangers on a Toy Train. We’ll see. I’m thinking dolls for book three, although they’ve always been in the series. It’s not blatantly obvious, at risk of being too cutesy, but Liz McCall shares the same full name as an iconic paper doll, Betsy McCall. Her sister-in-law, Cathy, can be a bit chatty. There’s a potential love interest named Ken. And the author–just don’t call me Barbie. I HATE being called Barbie.
BTB- Thanks Barb for stopping by, chatting and letting us into your brain. You are quite fascinating and so is this little toyshop of yours.
About The Author:
Barbara Early authored the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries (as Beverly Allen) and now writes the Vintage Toyshop Mysteries. She lives in Western New York.
Facebook Author Page : https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraEarly/
Alter Ego Beverly Allen: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBeverlyAllen
We didn’t get a chance to go into the doll room, but you have a chance to win something from the doll room. May I introduce, Jillian! She is what us doll collectors call a Walda doll. She was sold back in the 70s and 80s as an antiqued (not antique) doll to look like the older porcelain dolls of yesteryear. They have glued on wig caps, painted facial features of rosebud lips and different colored eyes, painted black boots and usually come dressed in a prairie looking dresses with a hat and bloomers.
Her head, arms and legs are made of porcelain and her body is stuffed with cotton rags. No Walda looks like another so collectors look for these for their distinct personalities. We have one (of course) in our collection. She was given the name Courtney and she joined our family in the early spring while my daughter and I were out antiquing. My daughter fell in love with her so we brought her home immediately, no questions asked. For information on Walda dolls, click HERE.
I was so excited when Barbara sent a photo to me of her find. I then flooded her with my doll knowledge. Lucky you! Just click below to be entered to win you very own “Walda” doll named by Barbara. Jillian is excited to come live with you. She is complete and in collector condition which is hard to find. Most are missing their hats. Good luck!
(named after the assistant museum curator, Jillian Hatley, in “Death of a Toy Soldier”)