Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery
Series: Shady Hollow #4
Published by Vintage on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
The fourth book in the Shady Hollow mystery series sees Vera embroiled in a case involving star-crossed lovers whose affair may have turned deadly.
It's spring in Shady Hollow, and romance is in the air. Even reporter Vera Vixen is caught up in the season as her relationship with new police chief Orville Braun blossoms. But true love is not always smooth sailing, as two of the hollow's young residents come to find. Jonah Atwater and Stasia von Beaverpelt find themselves battling their families in order to be together. And when Alan's father, Shelby, goes over the top of Twilight Falls, all signs point to Stasia being the murderer.
The evidence against Stasia appears overwhelming, and Orville arrests her. It looks like the case is closed, but Vera isn't so sure. There are almost too many clues indicating Stasia is the killer, leading her to suspect someone is setting Stasia up. Besides, what about the mysterious ghostly creature skulking around town at night? Maybe he or she was involved? As Vera investigates further, her sleuthing puts her in direct opposition to Orville, and soon she's stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble.
Twilight Falls turned out to be a refreshing breath of spring, the perfect antidote to the wintry conditions descending upon us these days.
It was also a delightful twisty little mystery, as the Shady Hollow series oh-so-frequently turns out to be.
Our story begins as a celebration of all things spring. The days are getting longer and warmer, the flowers are poking their heads out of the ground, the cherry blossoms are having their all-too-brief season and the apple trees have put on their glorious display just in time for Shady Hollow’s annual Apple Blossom Walk Festival for the benefit of the local charities. It’s a celebration of everyone’s survival from the winter, while acknowledging that some creatures’ survival cut a little too close to the bone in one way or another. The funds raised at the Festival go to those in need, while everyone has a great time celebrating the season.
It’s just that kind of celebration – albeit a bit more impromptu one – where the crime that ties the whole town in knots occurs. Twilight Falls, so named because the water at its base always seems to be shrouded in the gloam of twilight, is just far enough out in the woods – or in this case up the river – to seem like a great place to get away for a day.
On this particular weekend day, a LOT of the townsfolk have taken the opportunity of the warmer weather to take the ferry up to Twilight Falls for a day of frolicking for the little ones and perhaps a bit of canoodling for the courting couples on the trip.
Those courting couples include investigative reporter Vera Vixen and her beau, Police Chief Orville Braun, along with a picnic basket and a rare opportunity to spend time together without either of their jobs getting in the way.
Unfortunately, one of the other courting couples consists of Stasia von Beaverpelt, spoiled daughter of the town’s biggest employer, and her considerably less well-to-do boyfriend, working-class otter Jonah Atwater.
Unlike the cross-species relationship between Vera and Orville, both Stasia and Jonah still have parents around to object, most vigorously, about their romance. Jonah’s father has been objecting so strenuously, loudly and publicly that it’s more of a disappointment than a surprise that he tags along on the ferry to interfere yet again.
But it IS very much of a surprise when the senior Atwater is seen to have an altercation at the top of the falls with a mysterious adversary who draws a knife and pitches him over the Falls – presumably to his doom.
Or at least to the doom of Stasia and Jonah’s romance.
Escape Rating A-: Shady Hollow fits right into the cozy fantasy vibe that has become so popular, and it certainly is a comforting addition (or addiction) to the genre.
I was initially, back in the first book, Shady Hollow, expecting the setup to be more than a bit twee. Surprisingly, it’s not. Not even when taking word substitutions like ‘pawkerchief’ for ‘handkerchief’ into account.
The small town of Shady Hollow is every bit as cozy and twee as the setting of any small-town cozy mystery series, but not actually any more than that. Instead, the various creatures’ species turn out to be a way of highlighting character traits that in human-centric cozies has to be just a bit more explicitly revealed.
But the story proceeds the way that small-town cozies do. The police investigate the crime and come to the wrong conclusion. The romance between the police chief and the ace reporter snags on their strong differences of opinion about whodunnit. The red herrings get tastier and tastier as Orville’s investigation and Vera’s go their separate ways.
While both of them get lots of coffee and sympathy at the local coffee shop. That the shop is run by a moose doesn’t change that vibe AT ALL.
The family drama on both sides of the couple at the heart of the mystery, Stasia’s mother’s ambitions for her to marry well and wealthily, contrasted with Jonah’s dad’s stubborn determination that Jonah marry an otter, period, exclamation point, end of discussion, hit familiar beats in spite of the change in species. As do both adult children’s rejoinder that their parents are just being old-fashioned in their objections.
That their arguments seem to have found a violent resolution is just as typical for the cozy mystery genre as the rest of the story. And it’s all just a lovely and comforting read all the way around. Just like all cozy mystery series, if you’ve fallen for the regular ‘gang’ and the place they live – and I have – then it’s always wonderful to come back for a visit. And it certainly was this time around.
That the ending turns out to be even cozier than expected baked a delightful reading cake with just the tastiest icing imaginable.
I enjoyed reading this touch of spring mystery in the midst of a blustery fall, but I’m absolutely looking forward to the more seasonally-appropriate setting of Evergreen Chase, which I’m planning to read a bit later this holiday season.