Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #15
Published by Berkley on June 27, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Charlie and Diesel must catch a killer before he strikes another deadly note in this latest installment of the New York Times bestselling Cat in the Stacks Mysteries.
Charlie Harris remembers Wilfred “Wil” Threadgill as one of the outsiders during high school in Athena. Although Wil was a couple of years ahead of him and his friend Melba Gilley, Melba had a big crush on Wil, who dropped out after his junior year. An aspiring musician, Wil hit the road for California and never looked back. Wil eventually became a star, fronting a band and writing award-winning songs.
Coming back to Athena to work for two weeks with students in the college music department, Wil is now the big man on campus. Not everyone is happy to have him back, however. His entourage have been the target of several acts of petty harassment. At first they are easy for Wil to shrug off, but the incidents escalate and become more troubling. When one of the band members is killed Charlie worries that Melba, now deeply involved with the man at the center of the attacks, could be in deadly danger. It is up to Charlie and Diesel to find out who hates Wil Threadgill enough to silence his song . . . forever!
I’m on my way to the American Library Association Annual Conference this week, which makes this the perfect time for another Cat in the Stacks cozy mystery. Why? Because both amateur detective Charlie Harris and his author, Miranda (Dean) James, are both librarians! The college in Charlie’s hometown, Athena, Mississippi, where Charlie works part-time as an archivist and rare books cataloger, probably doesn’t ever send him to the Annual Conference, but I’d say it’s a sure bet that when Charlie worked at the much larger Houston Public Library that they occasionally did – particularly on those occasions when the conference touched down in the Lone Star State – as it sometimes still does.
50something Charlie has an unfortunate – or fortunate for the readers of this series – tendency to find himself involved in murder. Not perpetrating it – as his large and in charge Maine Coon cat Diesel would never permit his human to ever fall to the dark side. Rather, Charlie all too frequently finds himself in a position to solve murders, or at least to make the attempt.
A fact which ALWAYS makes Detective Kanesha Berry wish he’d mind his own business, as he’s all too frequently working in parallel to her and very much without her sanction. His family and friends also wish he’d do a better job of letting sleeping dogs lie, as his willingness to stick his nose in where it doesn’t belong – at least when it comes to murder in his hometown – all too often put Charlie (and even Diesel) directly into the line of fire.
And so it proves in this case of one of Athena’s prodigal sons returning home to both a hero’s welcome and a twisted version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with Charlie’s sister-from-another-mister, Melba Gilley, caught in the crossfire along with Charlie, Diesel, and the man she’s been pining over for entirely too long.
Escape Rating B: I’ve missed Diesel, although now I have Tuna and he’s about half a Diesel in size, intelligence and purr volume. Diesel is always the best part of the Cat in the Stacks mystery series, even though he is not the detective like Joe Grey and is merely (although merely can’t truly encompass a cat Diesel’s size) a big, sweet cat.
Howsomever, Diesel frequently serves as an emotional support cat during Charlie’s adventures – and not just for Charlie. A LOT of the characters in this entry in the series need more than a bit of feline TLC to get them through the trauma.
The starting point is a deadly take on “small town child makes good” as Wilfred “Wil” Threadgill is coming back home to Athena after 40 years of musical success, both as the leader of his own band and an Oscar-worthy movie soundtrack composer.
But Wil didn’t simply leave Athena and never look – or come – back over the years. He ran away – from town, from home, from his senior year in high school, and especially from the musical group that had formed around him and his friends. A musical group that was starting to see a fair amount of local success, and had a promising future – until Wil, the driving force behind that success bailed on Athena and left them high and dry and in the lurch.
It’s clear from the outset that someone in town isn’t exactly happy to see Wil, but their method of attack is to start attacking people around the man, and not the man himself. As the injuries mount and the bodies continue falling, Melba tries to protect her old flame, Charlie stays on the case to look out for Melba, while Detective Berry searches for a killer who seems to be holding an old grudge while hiding in plain sight.
I had a lot of fun reading this one – as usual. Charlie Harris is authentically one of us librarians, and Diesel is just as authentically a very big cat. Charlie’s life reads like a comfortable slipper that produces a sigh of relief whenever I put it on, because so much of his work and career is so familiar and rings true. Very much on the other hand, he has a tendency to find himself in interesting trouble, much like Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote.
This particular entry in the series relies on a bit of prior knowledge of Charlie’s life to date and the family of both birth and choice that he shares it with, as the ‘B’ plot of the story involves both Charlie’s attempts to get his fiancée to set a date for their wedding as well as a bit of trouble in the paradise of his son’s marriage. It’s not necessary to have read the entire series to get stuck into this entry, but one or two would be helpful – and the whole thing is a lovely, cozy read.
The case itself, while it isn’t a fair play mystery as there aren’t nearly enough clues to figure it out until very late in the game, is still more than interesting enough to follow between the story of the local boy makes good returning, the very old, very deep and very justified grudge, and the second set of crimes that just makes solving the puzzle that much more complicated.
So if you like small town cozies with engaging amateur detectives assisted by diverse ‘Scooby gangs’ accompanied by really adorable and personable animals, the Cat in the Stacks series might be your reading catnip. It certainly is mine!