Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #7
Published by Berkley on February 23, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Springtime in Mississippi is abloom with beauty, but the library’s employees are too busy worrying to stop and smell the flowers. The new library director, Oscar Reilly, is a brash, unfriendly Yankee who’s on a mission to cut costs—and his first targets are the archive and the rare book collection. As annoying as a long-overdue book, Reilly quickly raises the hackles of everyone on staff, including Charlie’s fiery friend Melba—whom Reilly wants to replace with someone younger. But his biggest offense is declaring all four-legged creatures banned from the stacks. With enemies aplenty, the suspect list is long when Reilly's body is discovered in the library. But things take a turn for the worse when a threatening e-mail throws suspicion on Melba. Charlie is convinced that his friend is no murderer, especially when he catches sight of a menacing stranger lurking around the library. Now he and Diesel will have to read between the lines, before Melba is shelved under “G” for guilty…
I pulled this out of somewhere deep in the virtually towering TBR pile because I was looking for a comfort read. I needed a book I could get into instantly. I just got the latest book in the series from Netgalley, and was sorely tempted to start it. Then I remembered that there was one of the earlier books I hadn’t read, so here we are, back in Athena Mississippi with Librarian Charlie Harris and his large and in charge Maine Coon cat Diesel.
And I dove right into this story with a sigh of relief – in spite of the murders – and didn’t emerge until I finished, feeling like my reading mojo was refreshed and that, if all is not right with the world, at least I could dive back into the reading pool from here.
One of the things I really liked about No Cats Allowed is just how true-to-life Charlie’s situation is in this book. Charlie Harris is a 50-something librarian in tiny Athena. After a career at the Houston Public Library, Charlie inherited a sprawling house in his home town and returned to his roots.
Between his inheritance and his pension, Charlie doesn’t need to work for a living. But he certainly does need to keep himself – and Diesel – mentally occupied. And that’s where his work for Athena College comes in, where he serves as the Rare Books Cataloger and maintains the archives. And also how he seems to find himself involved in solving murders.
But this particular case is absolutely steeped in the atmosphere of working in a library, and everything about solving this case is very much involved with the way that libraries work, and the way that they go wrong when they don’t.
In other words, the situation at the library and the college rang very true-to-life, even though the resulting murders were definitely fictional.
Not that the victim didn’t deserve it – although maybe not quite the way it happened.
When the bastard of an interim library director’s dead body is discovered crushed between the compact shelving in the library’s basement, it’s easier for Charlie to determine who didn’t want to kill the man than who did, because it seems like the entire library staff, and possibly a significant number of staff in the college as a whole, wanted him dead. And with good reason.
But nothing about the crime seems to add up. And neither do the library’s accounts – which may just be the motive after all.
Escape Rating A-: I had too much fun with this. It was just the right book at the right time, so I was all in from the first page and stayed in to the end. This was the only book in the series I hadn’t read, so it also answers a bunch of questions about situations that came up later, like the biggie about just how and why Charlie ended up as the interim library director, a job he definitely did not want, while the search for a new director was ongoing. And why they needed a new director in the first place.
Athena, like Cabot Cove and Midsomer County, has a terribly high murder rate for its population. It might be a very nice place to live but it seems like visiting can be a bit too deadly.
What was fun for this reader was the insight into the way that the library worked. All of Charlie’s colleagues reminded me very much of people that I worked with over my own career – including, I have to admit, both the murderer and the victim. As Charlie points out, neither management nor budgeting are skills taught in library school, so there’s a lot of “winging it” on both counts. Sometimes on VERY stubby wings.
The author of this series is a real-life librarian, and that experience certainly shows in Charlie’s working life in every book. He’s “one of us” and it reads as accurate. I’ve always said that Charlie is someone I’d love to have coffee with at a conference – when we get back to having in person conferences, that is.
As is usual with a cozy mystery series, part of what makes reading this so much fun is seeing where Charlie’s team is at in their lives. What’s lovely about Charlie’s team is that they are also his family, whether they are family by blood or family of choice. They’re just a lovely bunch of people, and that definitely includes Diesel.
Unlike some other felines in cozies, Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, and an extremely well-behaved cat, but definitely a cat. (Diesel weights 36 pounds, approximately the weight of all four of our cats combined!) He’s a comfort – and a comfortable – animal. And in spite of being very chatty, as cats can sometimes be, he doesn’t speak in English. Not that he can’t make himself perfectly understood by his human, but that’s a talent that all cats have.
But Diesel is utterly adorable in his very cat-ness, and the series, as well as the life of its protagonist, is richer for his presence. He’s a scene-stealer in the best possible way.
This is a series I love, and turn to whenever I need a comfort read. I’ll be back when the urge strikes, probably sooner rather than later considering just how uncomfortable 2020 has been so far, when Cat Me If You Can comes out later this summer.