Review: File M for Murder by Miranda James

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda JamesFile M for Murder (Cat in the Stacks, #3) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #3
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on January 31st 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Athena College's new writer in residence is native son and playwright Connor Lawton, known for his sharp writing- and sharper tongue. After an unpleasant encounter, librarian Charlie Harris heads home to a nice surprise: his daughter Laura is subbing for another Athena professor this fall semester. It's great news until he hears who got her the job: her old flame, Connor Lawton...
Fearing competition for Connor's affections, one of his admirers tries to drive Laura out of town. And then, before Connor finishes the play he is writing, he is murdered- and Laura is the prime suspect. Knowing she's innocent, Charlie and his faithful sidekick, Diesel, follow Connor's cluttered trail of angry lovers, bitter enemies, and intriguing research to find the true killer before his daughter is forever cataloged under "M"- for murderer.

My Review:

I am predisposed to like this series. The amateur sleuth is a 50-something librarian named Harris who loves his enormous cat. Said cat is excellent at providing aid and comfort (but mostly comfort) to anyone in his orbit who needs it, and sometimes serves as a great sounding board for his human.

We all talk to our cats, and we all believe that they understand at least some of what we say, and vice versa. Diesel, while rather large for a cat, because Maine Coons are very large cats, acts like a cat a bit on the high end of feline intelligence. But no more than that. One of the things I love about Diesel is that he never does anything that cats don’t do – albeit writ somewhat large. It’s not uncommon for Maine Coon cats to be three feet long from nose to tail, and for the males to top out at over 20 pounds. Diesel is a big, handsome boy with a purr that sounds like, you guessed it, a diesel engine.

And Charlie Harris is very much a librarian. I can easily identify with what he does at work, and why he does it. And also why he loves the parts of this job that he loves, and dislikes the parts he doesn’t love. He rings true as “one of us”. Except for that fascinating habit he has of getting involved in murder. Like so many fictional small town amateur detectives, he does have a gift for tripping over dead bodies and inserting himself into police investigations. It’s a knack that the local police detective finds more annoying than endearing, to say the least.

This particular case hits rather close to home. On the plus side, Charlie’s daughter Laura is home in Athena for the summer, teaching a drama class at the local college where Charlie works. On the minus side, she got the temporary gig through the influence of this year’s resident playwright at the university. And Connor Lawton is a major pain in the ass. Not just to Charlie, but to every single person he comes in contact with. He’s rude, arrogant and downright nasty to all, and no one likes him one bit.

He’s one of those people who is just such a big arsehole that no one seems to mourn him when he’s found dead in his apartment. Rather, the long line of people who might want to do him in stretches rather far.

But once Connor is out of the way, whoever is behind his death turns their gaze upon Laura Harris, and her family finds itself under threat from all sides. Charlie, as usual, feels like it’s all up to him to figure out whodunit – before the killer manages to either kill his daughter or burn down his house with everyone inside.

Escape Rating B: This series is always a good time. I got hooked when I picked up Twelve Angry Librarians, and so far I have yet to be disappointed by a single trip to Athena, Mississippi. I grabbed this one because I bounced hard off of two books, and needed something that I knew would draw me right in, and File M for Murder certainly delivered.

The mysteries in this series are definitely cozy. And not just because Diesel, like all Maine Coons, is a very furry cat. Athena, Mississippi is a small college town, and everyone pretty much does know everyone. When Charlie needs to find the dirt on someone living in town, he knows just who to ask. And when he has to do research on someone’s past doings, he knows just which library has all the resources he needs, as well as the skill to use them.

There are plenty of cat mysteries, but one of the things that I like best about this series is that Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, but just a cat. He doesn’t do anything that cats don’t do. Even in this particular story, where there is one point where Diesel really does save the day, he does it by smelling something off and meowing about it until he gets his human’s attention. Not all of us receive letter bombs (thank goodness) but that a cat would sniff out that the thing just smells “wrong” in a big way is quite possible.

It’s not that I don’t love Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey series, because I do, but one talking cat mystery series is probably enough. Or at least it is for this reader.

Another thing that I enjoy about this series is that Charlie is not always the first person to solve the mystery, the best person to solve the mystery, or even the person who saves the day by solving the mystery. In Charlie’s cases, he does get in the way of the police as often as he helps them. He doesn’t always do the cliche thing of getting all the suspects together for the big reveal. Sometimes the solution is anti-climactic, and Charlie is a step behind the police. It feels more human, and more likely, that an amateur sleuth would be as much of a hindrance as a help, while it still gives the reader a chance to put the pieces together along with Charlie, mistakes and all.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy and fun mystery series, with lovely people in an interesting setting, check out Charlie and Diesel. You don’t have to start with Murder Past Due (I didn’t) – this series is just good cozy fun wherever you jump in.

Review: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

Review: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda JamesTwelve Angry Librarians (Cat in the Stacks, #8) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #8
Pages: 288
Published by Berkley Books on February 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The "New York Times" bestselling author of "No Cats Allowed "and "Arsenic and Old Books" is back with more Southern charm and beguiling mystery as Charlie and Diesel must find a killer in a room full of librarians... Light-hearted librarian Charlie Harris is known around his hometown of Athena, Mississippi, for walking his cat, a rescued Maine Coon named Diesel. But he may soon be taken for a walk himself in handcuffs... Charlie is stressed out. The Southern Academic Libraries Association is holding this year s annual meeting at Athena College. Since Charlie is the interim library director, he must deliver the welcome speech to all the visiting librarians. And as if that weren t bad enough, the keynote address will be delivered by Charlie s old nemesis from library school. It s been thirty years since Charlie has seen Gavin Fong, and he s still an insufferable know-it-all capable of getting under everyone s skin. In his keynote, Gavin puts forth a most unpopular opinion: that degreed librarians will be obsolete in the academic libraries of the future. So, when Gavin is found dead, no one seems too upset... But Charlie, who was seen having a heated argument with Gavin after the speech, has jumped to the top of the suspect list. Now Charlie and Diesel must check out every clue to refine their search for the real killer among them before the next book Charlie reads comes from a prison library..."

My Review:

This series has been on my TBR pile for quite a while, but a couple of relatively recent events got me to finally pick it up. Last year I updated an “Author Read Alike” article for Novelist about the late Lilian Jackson Braun and her Cat Who mysteries. Miranda James’ Cat in the Stacks series came up as a strong read alike. A couple of months ago this particular title came up as I was interviewed for NetGalley’s Reader Spotlight feature. I was asked about book covers I was particularly looking forward to, and this was the book I chose. Why? Not that the handsome cat on the cover isn’t a draw all by himself, but it’s the title that really got me. Twelve Angry Librarians begs a question from most of us. What, ONLY twelve?

But about the book and the series. The series focuses on librarian Charlie Harris and his large and intelligent cat Diesel. Charlie lies in the small town of Athena Mississippi, where he is currently the interim director of the college library at the college he attended way back. Even though he left tiny Athena for library school in Houston and a long career there, he went back to Athena when his aunt left him her rambling house, and he’s made it his home.

Charlie has a penchant for getting involved in murder investigations, strictly on an amateur basis. He seems to have acquired that temporary director job after his predecessor was murdered, and of course Charlie figured out who the culprit was. (I haven’t read the whole series, YET, and it did not in any way spoil my enjoyment of this book. But I did enjoy it a lot, and plan to pick up the rest!)

Whether the job is reward or punishment depends on just how many fires he has to put out that day.

But part of the job is playing genial host to the regional library association when they hold their annual conference in Athena. While Charlie has plenty of friends, the social whirl of the conference isn’t all that appealing. And that’s before he discovers that his library school nemesis is not only the keynote speaker, but has also applied for the permanent job that Charlie is temporarily holding.

Gavin Fong is slime. And saying that is an insult to slime. He has accumulated so many enemies that it’s amazing that he’s lived as long as he has. It is not a surprise that someone murders him at the conference, although spiking his water bottle with cyanide might seem a bit extreme. But no one misses the bastard.

Charlie’s lucky he has an alibi for the crime, after half the conference witnessed him punching the jerk’s lights out the day before, followed by applause from the approving crowd. But with the conference and the murder, Charlie is in the thick of the investigation, whether he wants to be, or not.

When a second dead body turns up, it seems like everyone is a possible suspect. And a possible next victim. But which is which?

Escape Rating A-: This was an excellent cozy mystery, but I have some personal mixed feelings. The description of the crowd of the librarians and the details of the job of librarian were very true to life. To the point where I’m surprised this series is as popular as it is with general readers. The situations described, unfortunately including the nastiness of the victim, were so true-to-life that they almost gave me flashbacks. That the author is a practicing librarian was no surprise to this reader.

Originally I picked this as a read alike for the Cat Who mysteries. But in spite of a few surface details, the series aren’t really alike, although I think that readers of one will like the other. The similarity is that both Charlie Harris and Jim Qwilleran inherited rambling houses in small towns from late aunts and retired from the big city to the small town to live in those lovely homes. And, of course, they have cats. And poke their noses into local crimes.

But Q believes that his Siamese cat Koko helps him solve those mysteries. Diesel, on the other hand, is just a cat. He’s huge, but then, Maine Coon cats are really that big. He walks on a lead, but it is possible to train a cat to do that. Diesel is also very cuddly, and very responsive to the moods of the people around him. Cats that have their own staff, in the dogs have owners, cats have staff sense, can be quite affectionate and responsive. Diesel is a smart cat, but on a scale compared to other cats. He’s not human intelligent or psychic or whatever Q thinks Koko is.

Not that I wouldn’t love to have a Maine Coon. They are absolutely gorgeous cats, and very even tempered. They can afford to be – at 25 pounds (average cats weigh around ten pounds!) they are bigger than most things that might unnerve or threaten them, including small dogs.

More than anything else, the book that Twelve Angry Librarians reminds me of is Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb. The situations are surprisingly similar. Bimbos also takes place at a small convention, in this case a science fiction convention. So it has the same relatively enclosed setting of a bunch of people who know each other casually but see each other regularly and who have something in common. Everyone is away from home, and what happens at the convention, either kind, generally stays at the convention. Both Jay Omega and Charlie Harris are very amateur detectives. And both victims were such disgusting examples of human beings that the reader is almost grateful when they get killed, as are most of the conference attendees. So both are cases where the list of people who did not have a motive is much, much shorter than the list of people who did.

For a cozy series, it is necessary that the protagonist and his family of ‘irregulars’ be both interesting and likable. Charlie and Diesel certainly fit that bill. Charlie is someone I would love to have coffee with and share stories, especially if I could pet Diesel while doing it. The people who populate Charlie’s life and his world all seem to have their own interesting tales to tell. I also like that a part of the story is Charlie’s warm relationship both with his now adult children and with the woman in his life. Long-running mystery series often include a will they/won’t they romance, but having that romance feature 50-somethings is rare and wonderful. (It this factor appeals to you, dig into Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed Mysteries for a similar romantic sub-sub-plot)

I’m glad I finally clawed my way into the Cat in the Stacks series, and I’m looking forward to going back to pick up the beginning in Murder Past Due as soon as I get a copy. From the library, of course.