#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux

#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle ArceneauxGlory Be (Glory Broussard Mystery, #1) by Danielle Arceneaux
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by the publisher via Spotify
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Glory Broussard Mystery #1
Pages: 272
Length: 8 hours and 47 minutes
Published by Pegasus Crime, Spotify on October 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The first in a vivid and charming crime series set in the Louisiana bayou, introducing the hilariously uncensored amateur sleuth Glory Broussard. Perfect for fans of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club.
It’s a hot and sticky Sunday in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Glory has settled into her usual after-church routine, meeting gamblers at the local coffee shop, where she works as a small-time bookie. Sitting at her corner table, Glory hears that her best friend—a nun beloved by the community—has been found dead in her apartment.
When police declare the mysterious death a suicide, Glory is convinced that there must be more to the story. With her reluctant daughter—who has troubles of her own—in tow, Glory launches a shadow investigation into Lafayette’s oil tycoons, church gossips, a rumored voodoo priestess, nosey neighbors, and longtime ne'er-do wells.
As a Black woman of a certain age who grew up in a segregated Louisiana, Glory is used to being minimized and overlooked. But she’s determined to make her presence known as the case leads her deep into a web of intrigue she never realized Lafayette could harbor.
Danielle Arcenaux’s riveting debut brings forth an unforgettable character that will charm and delight crime fans everywhere and leave them hungry for her next adventure.

My Review:

Like most amateur detectives, Glory Broussard begins her first investigation because it’s personal. Her best friend is dead, and the police have ruled that death a suicide. A decision that Glory refuses to believe.

Glory had known Amity Gay since they were little girls in pinafores, and for all the 60-some-odd years of their lives that followed. Glory knew Amita Gay as well as she knew herself, and her friend was looking forward to life, not running away from it.

And through bitter experience, Glory is all too aware that the police, in Louisiana and elsewhere but perhaps especially in Louisiana, discount and disregard the deaths of black people in general and black women in particular.

Because that’s the way it always has been, and in spite of changes on the surface, that’s the way it still is.

So Glory, amateur detective, professional busybody and successful bookmaker (yes, I mean gambling and not bookkeeping) does a bit of surreptitious reconnaissance in her late friend’s apartment and discovers a whole lot of paperwork about a chemical plant that the big company in Lafayette wants to construct right next to a poor black town so they can make even more money and spread more cancer – not necessarily in that order to Glory’s cynical mind.

While the police might have left the paperwork behind because it wasn’t an actual part of the crime scene, Glory knows they didn’t search at all because she found a box of fentanyl-laced lollipops in the back of Amity Gay’s closet. Something that would definitely have been found and confiscated in even a cursory search.

Which means that obviously no search was done, that the police are rushing to judgment because its easier for them – and possibly for the big company with those chemical plant plans.

Glory will just have to nose her way around Amity Gay’s old friends, Glory’s own new enemies and figure out which of the possible parties and motives is responsible for the death of her best friend.

The last thing Glory needs to add to her already overwhelming to-do list is figuring out what her daughter, a successful New York City attorney, is doing back in Lafayette, minding Glory’s business and cleaning up her house. Or, for that matter, figuring out what has the city all fired-up to condemn her house.

Or even, heaven forbid, whether or not her dearest friend, a professed Catholic nun, had been doing something unholy. Again.

Escape Rating B: Glory Broussard does not hold back. Ever. Not within the confines of her own head as she tells this story, and not out loud, either. She’s certainly an acquired taste for her friends and neighbors, and quite possibly for the reader as well.

Glory does not suffer fools, neither does she let said fool out of her sight without telling them that she thinks they are one. Sometimes in great detail. In other words, Glory is a lot, and not exactly universally beloved – or even respected.

To the point where it’s easy to understand why her daughter, successful New York City attorney Delphine, wishes she could get her mother to just shut up now and again, especially when faced with city officials who want to condemn Glory’s house. Not that Glory doesn’t get the best of that situation – along with a whole lot else – in the end.

But part of Glory’s charm, and certainly part of the charm of the story as a whole, is Glory’s bone-deep authenticity. It’s certainly not Glory’s honesty, because she doesn’t seem to have an honest bone in her body – not even in reference to herself and the depression she has sunk into over the years.

What does ring true, particularly in audio, is the relationship between Glory and Delphine, that ‘roses and thorns’ kind of love that can exist between mothers and their adult daughters. Part of both the compulsion to finish this mystery and the difficulty of doing so for this reader is that I heard the echo of every single argument I had with my own mother in the exchanges between Glory and Delphine. That roses and thorns observation was heartbreaking because it felt so very true.

But the story, the mystery, and the eventual, hard-won mutual respect that arises between mother and daughter, follows Glory’s stubborn pig-headedness from something that everyone told her should be left well enough alone to a conclusion she almost wishes she’d never uncovered.

She’s left with the realization that too many of the people she believed in have feet of clay up to the knees. And to console herself, in the end, that justice has been done, along with the new lease on life that becoming an amateur detective has brought her.

Readers, on the other hand, can console themselves with the fact that Glory will be back on the case in another mystery this coming fall!

TLC

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A- #BookReview: The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai, translated by Jesse Kirkwood

A- #BookReview: The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai, translated by Jesse KirkwoodThe Kamogawa Food Detectives (The Kamogawa Food Detectives, #1) by Hisashi Kashiwai, Jesse Kirkwood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, foodie fiction
Series: Kamogawa Food Detectives #1
Pages: 208
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The Kamogawa Food Detectives is the first book in the bestselling, mouth-watering Japanese series for fans of Before the Coffee Gets Cold.
What’s the one dish you’d do anything to taste just one more time?
Down a quiet backstreet in Kyoto exists a very special restaurant. Run by Koishi Kamogawa and her father Nagare, the Kamogawa Diner serves up deliciously extravagant meals. But that’s not the main reason customers stop by . . .
The father-daughter duo are ‘food detectives’. Through ingenious investigations, they are able to recreate dishes from a person’s treasured memories – dishes that may well hold the keys to their forgotten past and future happiness. The restaurant of lost recipes provides a link to vanished moments, creating a present full of possibility.
A bestseller in Japan, The Kamogawa Food Detectives is a celebration of good company and the power of a delicious meal.

My Review: 

“We find your food” is all the advertisement that the Kamogawa Diner – and the office of the Kamogawa Food Detectives located in the back of the tiny restaurant – either needs or wants.

Because that combination of slogan, motto and raison d’être says all that this father-daughter duo needs to say, either about the food they serve or the unique service they provide.

Taste and smell are inextricably linked to memory in ways that we all know, but are hard to articulate. It’s why the right perfume is so evocative, and why dishes we loved when we were children evoke such powerful memories.

Nagare Kamogawa and his adult daughter Koishi own, operate and investigate the dishes served at their diner. When someone comes in needing their special services, Koishi asks the questions and her father, a police detective turned masterchef, provides the answers in the form of a dish that brings back the memory that their client has been chasing down so hard, to no avail. At least until now.

The stories in this delightful little collection are the stories of their clients, each with a particular sharp need for something like closure of a loss that happened yesterday or long ago. They are pursuing a chance to commune one more time with someone they lost, someone they left behind, or someone they need to let go of.

Each comes to the diner with a vague memory of a time, a place, a person, and a dish upon which it all hangs together in a faded memory. Through recreating the dish, the Kamogawa Food Detectives give their clients one more chance to reconcile, or mourn, the person in that memory, whether it’s someone they lost or merely a part of themselves they left behind.

Like the cuisine that is mouth-wateringly described in each and every story, the memories are, for the most part, not sweet unless that sweetness is tinged with the bitterness of loss. Rather, each story is one to be savored, as is this whole, entirely delicious, slice of life at the home of the Kamogawa Food Detectives.

Escape Rating A-: This was absolutely the right book at the right time. In spite of being a loosely linked collection of short stories, it hung together MUCH better than yesterday’s book, to the point where I finished this little volume in one – admittedly hungry – sitting. At the end, my only negative thought about the book was that it wasn’t nearly enough.

Don’t go into this one hungry, because the descriptions of the food are every bit as tantalizing as the stories are savory – even the ones that describe something that might not be to one’s own taste. If these dishes are half as good as the descriptions in the book make them, I’d be willing to try them all.

I also couldn’t help but think of similar dishes, not in cuisine but in my own memory. Dishes that my grandmother made that neither my mother nor I were ever able to replicate. Love and nostalgia are seasonings that are difficult to duplicate, no matter how many times one has tried. (If you’re wondering, I can replicate my favorite dishes that my mother made. But my grandmother’s, no.)

I want to say this was sweet but based on the utterly tantalizing descriptions of the food, it would be more accurate to say that this was wonderfully umami, in other words, marvelously savory and absolutely delicious.

This is, honestly, a book that kind of defies description. You have to be there, within its magic, to get the full flavor of just how lovely it is. All I can say is that it is absolutely, delightfully, worth the read.

Speaking of magic, however, if the taste of The Kamogawa Food Detectives is as appealing to you as it was to me, if you would like to try something similar with a more overt hint of magic (I say more overt because it could easily be claimed that what these food detectives do IS magic) you might want to try The Nameless Detective by Tao Wong. The Kamogawa Food Detectives is also frequently cited as a readalike for Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Which I have not read YET, but certainly plan to in the months ahead.

The above recommendations will hopefully tide you over until your next delicious visit to The Kamogawa Food Detectives. This book is the first in a series of seven in the original Japanese, and the second book, The Restaurant of Lost Recipes, will be published in English in October.

I’m already salivating for another taste!

#BookReview: A Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Murder of Crows by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #1
Pages: 368
Published by Embla Books on July 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Dr Nell Ward is an ecologist, not a detective. But when she’s the prime suspect in a murder, only her unique set of skills could help to clear her name…
In the sleepy village of Cookingdean, Dr Nell Ward is busy working in the grounds of a local manor house. Whilst inspecting an old tunnel, the last thing she expects to overhear is a murder. As the only person with any clues as to what happened, Nell soon finds herself in the middle of the investigation.
Desperate to clear her name Nell, along with her colleague Adam, set out solving the murder using their skills as ecologists to uncover details no one else would notice. But it soon becomes clear that playing Agatha Christie is much harder than it might at first appear…
The start of an exciting new cosy crime series – perfect for fans of Richard Osman, Faith Martin and Joy Ellis.

My Review:

Dr. Nell Ward, consulting ecologist, licensed surveyor of bats as well as great crested newts, barn owls and dormice, is a very square peg, personally and professionally.

She keeps her personal life VERY close to the vest, while professionally she’s both nerdy about her beloved bats and extremely meticulous about her work.

The problem is that the local police in Pendlebury have a rough but round hole they seem determined to shove her into.

Nell was doing an ecological survey, specifically a bat survey, in the old tunnels underneath Manor House Farm – with permission of course – when the owner, the woman who gave her that permission, was murdered at the opposite end of the tunnel where Nell was surveying.

Nell was alone, the bats unfortunately can’t give her an alibi, and the obvious suspect for Sophie Crows’ murder, her husband David, was at a business conference a couple of hours away. He has all the alibi he needs, while Nell has none.

On the other hand, David Stephenson had PLENTY of motives to murder his wife – it just doesn’t seem possible that he could have managed the job personally. That Nell has about as much motive for murdering Sophie Crows as her husband seems to have had opportunity doesn’t seem to matter.

Nell’s behavior, her seeming over-helpfulness and abundant documentation about her movements that night, combined with her reticence about her personal connections, strikes the police as suspicious behavior. They’re sure she must have a motive for the murder, and they seem determined to find it – or make one up – rather than dig deeply into the husband.

Leaving Nell in the midst of the absolute classic series starter for an amateur detective – her very first case is to do the job the police don’t seem to be nearly interested enough in doing themselves, and figure out who really ‘done it’ – before circumstantial evidence and a lack of imagination on the part of the local constabulary convict Nell of a crime that she may have heard committed – but absolutely did not commit herself.

Escape Rating B: I was hoping to love this book, because it definitely fits the murder-y reading mood I’ve been in recently and I can always use a comfort read series.

I did like Nell Ward rather a lot – at least in her first outing. I enjoyed her professionalism and especially her charming nerdiness about her job and her bats. Especially her bats. I may not ever want to meet a whole colony of the creatures but I could feel for her love of them and advocacy for them all the way through.

As well as her emotional conflicts around revealing her private self and ultra-privileged identity to her friends and colleagues. She doesn’t trust her judgment, she’s been burned by too many people before, and she has plenty to protect.

But there were a couple of things about the case that the local police did their damndest to stitch her up for that bothered me. More than a little bit. Actually rather a lot.

It’s not even that the frame was obvious – although it certainly was. I knew who really done it very early on, and had a good guess about how he’d managed it. He wasn’t even all that clever.

The police spent SO MUCH time on hypothesizing possible motives for Nell to have killed Sophie Crows that it seemed as if someone on the force was determined to make Nell pay for being extremely privileged. Or possibly for being nerdy and so overhelpful that the police were overwhelmed by all her information. At the same time, they spent very little effort checking out the husband’s alibi in comparison.

He had literally millions of reasons to murder his wife. And her mother. Millions of pounds sterling of reasons. Motives that should have garnered much more serious attempts to break his alibi.

But the story only works if Nell is wrongfully accused, and the only way that could happen was for the police to focus their efforts in Nell’s direction – whether their reasons made sense or not.

In the end, I liked A Murder of Crows rather than loved it. I like Nell a lot, although I’m hoping the love triangle she’s backed herself into gets resolved sooner rather than later. I’m really curious about how she’s going to manage to reconcile Dr. Nell Ward’s professional life with Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont’s wealthy and privileged existence as the daughter of the Earl of Finchmere, Lord Beaumont, and his Conservative MP wife Imelda Ward-Beaumont, and the heir to the grand – but seemingly not entailed – estate of Finchmere.

Because neither of the two men currently vying for her hand have a chance of fitting into Lady Eleanor’s world no matter how much either or both of them suit Dr. Nell Ward down to the ground. If she can ever manage to tell either of them so and very much vice-versa.

The book that A Murder of Crows reminds me of very much is A Death in Door County, the first book in the Monster Hunter Mystery series by Annelise Ryan. Both series are fronted by female scientists who are deeply but never pedantically into their scientific specialities, both were first books in series that hopefully will figure themselves out a bit better as they continue (the second book in the Monster Hunter series, Death in the Dark Woods, was much better than the first!) both women are making only tentative steps towards possible romances, and both have a habit of falling into amateur detection by way of their scientific pursuits.

So if you like the one series, you’ll probably like the other. I certainly liked Dr. Nell Ward more than enough to be looking forward to the next book in her series, A Cast of Falcons, whenever I next get the itch for murder.

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Seance by Marty Wingate

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Seance by Marty WingateA Body at the Séance (London Ladies' Murder Club, #2) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Pages: 332
Published by Bookouture on January 11, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a body turns up at a glamorous séance, Mabel Canning’s sleuthing skills are put to the test. Because it appears the victim died twice…
London, 1921: As a winter wind blows through the streets of London, Mabel Canning is hired by the Useful Women’s Agency to attend a séance at the home of famous medium Madame Pushkana. But when Mabel hears a choking noise and a loud thud, she quickly turns on the lights to find herself at the scene of a murder.
The victim is none other than Stamford Plomley, whose widow arranged the séance after he died in a fire eight months ago. How did he come back from the dead without a scorch mark on him? And could one of their assembled party of gentlewomen have killed him… again?
When Scotland Yard arrive, the police try to stop Mabel from interfering. But having just formed the London Ladies’ Murder Club, Mabel isn’t going anywhere. And with the help of former detective Park Winstone, she begins to piece together what really happened at the ghostly gathering.
But when Mabel receives a threatening letter warning her to stay away from the case, she realises the murderer may have another victim in mind. With time running out, will she hit a dead end? Or can she keep herself from becoming the next one to be sent to an early grave?
A totally gripping, witty and warm Golden Age cozy murder mystery from USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman, Verity Bright and T.E. Kinsey.

My Review:

Whether or not one is a believer in spiritualism, the best one can hope for at a séance is a ‘message from the other side’ from the dearly departed. But no matter how much one believes, one absolutely does not expect the dearly departed to appear in the flesh. Even more miraculously, in the whole and entirely not desiccated or decomposing flesh – in spite of the dearly departed’s departure having taken place eight months previously.

However, one could not exactly say that reports of Stamford Plomley’s death had been greatly exaggerated – more that they were clearly premature eight months ago. Because the man is certainly dead now, strangled with the rope generally used to tie back the curtains that had so recently concealed his quite living body until the advent of the rope and whoever used it to bring about his delayed – or at least erroneously reported – demise.

And not that the world – and certainly Stamford Plomley’s widow Ivy – aren’t both better off with him firmly and finally deceased. However, that leaves both Scotland Yard and Mabel Canning, the head of the Useful Women’s Agency’s private investigations division with cases to solve.

Mrs. Plomley hires Mabel to investigate the circumstances of Stamford Plomley’s ‘first’ death, while Inspector Tollerton of Scotland Yard must look into the case of his second and more permanent one.

They will both have their hands full looking into the cult of believers who attended the séance conducted by the mysterious Madame Pushkana. A séance that was intended to bring Mrs. Plomley a message from the perhaps not-so-dearly departed – a message that was providentially – for someone – interrupted by a bit of flash paper and that rope around Mr. Plomley’s neck.

But if the late and not-so-lamented-as-was-originally-believed Stamford Plomley was killed with a rope in the séance room, when Madame Pushkana, the medium herself, is murdered by a knife in the back, backstage before one of her public ‘spiritual evenings’, both Inspector Tollerton and Mabel are forced to the realization that their cases have become uncannily close – and that someone is stalking their list of potential suspects.

Escape Rating A-: I couldn’t resist diving almost straight into A Body at the Séance so soon after the first book in the London Ladies’ Murder Club series, the charmingly murderous A Body on the Doorstep, because that book was just so much cozy mystery fun that I had to find out if the author managed to capture that lightning in the bottle a second time – even if said lightning jumped out of the bottle and killed someone new.

Which it did – in all the ways that the above can be taken as a pun. A Body at the Séance was every bit as much fun as the first book – if not just a teeny bit more because of the many ways that Mabel managed to hang onto her skepticism even as she found herself investigating an all-too-real murder that was just a bit over the top because of both setting and circumstances.

Watching Mabel unravel the murder while exploring her post-World War I London was just as charming as the first book – even if I did figure out whodunnit well before the final reveal.

What carried this second entry in the series, at least for this reader, was the intelligence and yes, charm, of Mabel herself. She’s easy for contemporary readers to identify with because, in spite of an entire century between her world and ours, her situation is so very similar to that of any independent woman determined to stretch her wings and make a place for herself on her own merits for the very first time in her life.

So Mabel is finding her way in what, for her, is intended to be a brave, new world, and it is. She’s got to earn a living, watch her expenses, find a new set of friends, new familiar places, and generally make her own way. She’s not rich, she’s not poor, she’s not in service, she’s from a comfortably middle-class background and has been given strong roots by her upbringing and wings from being finally able to make her own life.

And that’s a circumstance that many of us can identify with – with or without the ubiquity of social media.

That Mabel may have found an unexpected romance is just icing on a cake that she’s not sure she’s ready to eat. Because her independence is precious to her, she’s worked hard to reach it, and she’s not willing to fall back into the expected female role. She just isn’t sure yet whether the man she stumbled across in her first investigation will be able to accept her as an equal and not just as a wife.

She’s not willing to settle. And she doesn’t have to. Which makes her the kind of role model the world could still use more of.

So, as much as I came for the cozy murder mystery setting so reminiscent of the Golden Age of detective fiction, I’m absolutely sticking for Mabel Canning, her London Ladies’ Murder Club and the wonderful doggy assistance of the rather intelligent Gladys, because I’m loving every page.

Mabel, and her growing ‘Scooby Gang’, especially Gladys, will be back in April in A Body at the Dance Hall. As a child, I thought the old saying was “a new face on the BALLroom floor”, instead of what it really is. It looks like this time I’ll get to see my version come to life. Or, more likely, death, in just a couple of months.

Either way, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Mabel and her friends get to the bottom of their next case!

A- #AudioBookReview: A Body on the Doorstep by Marty Wingate

A- #AudioBookReview: A Body on the Doorstep by Marty WingateA Body on the Doorstep (London Ladies' Murder Club, #1) by Marty Wingate
Narrator: Naomi Frederick
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: London Ladies' Murder Club #1
Pages: 288
Length: 9 hours and 3 minutes
Published by Bookouture on January 11, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Fiercely independent Mabel Canning can’t wait to begin working for the Useful Women’s Agency. But when she discovers a body on her client’s doorstep, it’s time to add solving murders to her job description…
London, 1921: Mabel Canning is proud to be a modern woman working for the Useful Women’s Agency, carrying out tasks for gentlewomen from flower arranging to washing muddy dogs. But when she answers the door for wealthy widow Rosalind Despard, she almost chokes on her cucumber sandwich when she finds a soldier’s body on the doorstep.
As she offers tea to the policemen of Scotland Yard, Mabel can’t resist getting drawn into the investigation. Who was the mysterious dead man? And why was he holding a letter for Rosalind, written by her husband on the day he disappeared?
As Mabel hunts for clues, she joins forces with Rosalind’s handsome brother, former detective Park Winstone, and his adorable terrier, Gladys. But when Mabel suspects she is being followed, the detective duo know that time is running out before the killer strikes again.
As she investigates, Mabel discovers dusty old photographs that help her reveal the soldier’s true identity. But as she gets closer to uncovering the young man’s murderer, she knows she’s also one step closer to danger... Can she outsmart the killer and save Park and Rosalind before they also turn up dead as doornails?
A totally unputdownable and utterly charming Golden Age cozy mystery from USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman, Verity Bright and T.E. Kinsey.

My Review:

Miss Mabel Canning has arrived in London in 1921 after FINALLY managing to convince her father that it was no longer scandalous for an unmarried woman to live on her own and support herself in the big city. She’s also running away from her whole village’s firmly held belief that she should marry the local vicar – who is also her best friend’s widower after the ravages of the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Mabel has always dreamed of going to London and living on her own, and she sees poor, dear Ronald as a brother and absolutely NOT a potential spouse. In her mid-30s, Mabel isn’t even certain she wants one of those. She’s certain she doesn’t want any of the available men back home in Peasmarch.

We meet her on her first assignment for the Useful Women’s Agency. She’s been tasked with helping newly declared widow Rosalind Despard at the wake for her late and much lamented husband. But Rosalind isn’t even certain that her husband Guy is actually dead. He’s been missing for seven years and has been declared legally dead so that his business affairs can be taken care of. It’s all about closure – a closure that Rosalind isn’t sure she’s either ready or even eligible for.

So it’s a very strange wake, under rather unusual circumstances. Circumstances that only get stranger and even more unusual when a dead man thumps into the front door with a seven-year-old letter from Guy Despard in his pocket.

No one knows who the dead man is. No one knows what the letter has only turned up seven years after Guy’s disappearance. No one is entirely certain whether the letter is real or merely an elaborate hoax.

But the dead body is certainly real enough to bring the police to the house and open up all the questions and insinuations that Rosaline Despard has been dealing with all these years.

This is certainly not closure, not for Rosalind and not for any of her friends and family. And not for Miss Mabel Canning, who has befriended the widow and is determined to help her get that closure – one way or another – while doing her best to keep her own body and soul together along the way.

Escape Rating A-: This was lovely, very much a case of the right book at the right time, as I’ve been in a bit of a murder-y mood this week – actually this whole entire year so far.

From the beginning, Mabel Canning’s situation at the Useful Women’s Agency reminded me of something, and it’s a something that very much fits. The ‘Golden Age’ detective series about Lord Peter Wimsey, written by Dorothy Sayers, is also set in the 1920s, and the world has some of the same feel even if Mabel is seeing it from much more towards the middle of the social strata.

But during the Wimsey series, Lord Peter funds an agency for independent women, very much like the Useful Women’s Agency. He hires Miss Katharine Climpson’s agency to investigate situations in various cases where women will have entry and he does not, much like Mabel Canning uses the Useful Women’s Agency to get herself involved in a murder investigation.

Unlike Miss Climpson, Miss Kerr and the Useful Women’s Agency really existed – without Miss Canning’s particular specialty – because there was a need for independent women to make their own livings after World War I followed by the flu epidemic wiped out much of the generation of men they would otherwise have married.

The mystery in The Body on the Doorstep is quite nefarious, multi-layered and much closer to home than anyone imagined at its beginning. Well, not the police as they ALWAYS assumed that the wife did it. An erroneous assumption, of course, otherwise we wouldn’t have a mystery on our hands.

The story is cozy without being twee, and its setting in London as seen through the eyes of a woman on the verge of ‘middle-age’ gives her perspective a combination of freshness and maturity at the same time.

There are plenty of murders, and they are often all too gruesome, and yet the details are smudged just enough that the reader ‘gets’ the gruesomeness without being bathed in the blood – so to speak.

But the story works well because we’re following Mabel Canning, and her opening herself to the city and all its possibilities for independence and purpose makes her interesting to follow. We empathize with her every bit as much as she empathizes with the characters who become caught up by the ever expanding tendrils of the murder and its cover up.

I listened to this one for about half its length, and the narrator gave Mabel just the right voice for her inner thoughts and outer expressions. But I got so caught up in the mystery itself that I had to see whodunnit and switched to text because it’s a)faster and b) a whole lot easier to thumb to the end. Although I resisted that temptation by simply finishing in one sitting.

I liked Mabel, I enjoyed her two steps forward, one step back, looking over her shoulder investigation through friendship and a sincere desire to help, and am happy to say that there are two more books in this series – at least!

Particularly because there’s a hint of a possibility of romance for Mabel in this first book, and I’m hoping that we’ll learn whether they will or they won’t in A Body at the Seance, which is out now, and A Body at the Dance Hall, coming in April.

Review: Death in the Dark Woods by Annelise Ryan

Review: Death in the Dark Woods by Annelise RyanDeath in the Dark Woods (Monster Hunter Mystery #2) by Annelise Ryan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Monster Hunter Mystery #2
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on December 12, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

A potential Bigfoot sighting is linked to a vicious murder, but skeptical cryptozoologist Morgan Carter is on the case in this new Monster Hunter Mystery by USA Today bestselling author Annelise Ryan.
Business has been booming since Morgan Carter solved the case of the monster living in Lake Superior. The Odds and Ends bookstore is thriving, of course, but Morgan is most excited by the doors that were opened for her as a cryptid hunter. 
Recently, there have been numerous sightings of a Bigfoot-type creature in the Chequamengon-Nicolet National Forest area of Bayfield County, Wisconsin. After a man is found dead from a vicious throat injury in the forest, the local sheriff asks Morgan to investigate. 
When Morgan and her dog, Newt, go there to investigate, they uncover a trail of lies, deception, and murder. It seems a mysterious creature is, indeed, living in the forest, and Morgan might be its next target.

My Review:

“Sightings of the monster are directly related to consumption of the Highland beverage,” or so proclaimed a tour guide on the way to Loch Ness a few years ago. Not that cryptozoologist Morgan Carter is looking for Nessie, or even any kin she might have in the Great Lakes, but that quote does rather sum up Morgan’s attitude towards the cryptids that fascinate her – even though she doesn’t expect to find one.

Morgan is a scientist first, a bookstore owner second, and a professionally trained cryptozoologist third. Her scientific training tells her that finding a real cryptid, either in the present day or in a formerly hidden bit of the historical record, is unlikely at best.

Then again, coelacanths weren’t discovered until 1938. So an aquatic ‘sea monster’ whose remains have all fallen into the deep is still possible if not likely. Bigfoot, a land-based primate cryptid – not so much.

So when her friend, local police chief Jon Flanders, brings a conservation officer from Bayfield, Wisconsin to her door with a tale of two mutilated dead bodies, one scared witness and the possibility that Bigfoot is on the loose, Morgan is intrigued – but far from convinced. It’s far more likely, as that tour guide claimed, that either the weather conditions in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest were foggy with a chance of cryptid sightings, or that the witness was either blind drunk or just plain blind.

After all, whether or not Bigfoot is responsible, there are two dead bodies. Someone, or something, or someone posing as something, killed them. And Morgan is determined to find out who, or which, or both.

And she’s all too aware that there are more than enough two-legged monsters to go around – and get around – without needing to hunt for Bigfoot.

Escape Rating A-: So far, at least, the Monster Hunter Mystery series is cozy with a side of gruesome. Considering the series title, the gruesome part is kind of expected. It’s the cozy setting that throws things a bit for a loop, but in a very interesting way.

I liked this second book in the series better than the first, A Death in Door County, for reasons that I’m, of course, about to get into.

This second book does a great job of giving the reader enough logic and especially science to understand exactly why Morgan finds Bigfoot to be considerably further down the “plausible existability” without getting nearly so far into the weeds, or seaweeds as the case may be, as she did in that first book.

Also, the villains of this piece were all more or less in plain sight from the beginning, it was much more a question of what, precisely who was guilty of, and why. The red herrings were all mind-catchingly presented and really tasty. There were also plenty of them to serve as appetizers until the main course was revealed. And no, I didn’t guess which of the many possibilities was the actual killer until the end – because there was just so much guilt to go around. Just not the same guilt.

The resolution of the Bigfoot sightings was handled in a way that was entirely within the bounds of possibility and dove deeply into a bit of Wisconsin history that has lost a great deal of its luster over the decades, but once upon a time was something quite special.

And briefly is again, albeit in an entirely different way.

We’re also getting to know the ‘Scooby Gang’ that Morgan has gathered around herself, including her frenemy turned friend – if not more – Police Chief Jon Flanders. There’s a will they/won’t they relationship going on there that is moving at a glacial pace – for good and solid emotional reasons that it’s going to be fun to see thaw over the books ahead.

Plus there’s an EvilEx™ lurking in the background, the cause of the glacial pace of Morgan’s side of the relationship, just waiting to jump out of the shadows. I think I’m even more invested in seeing him get his just desserts than I am in Morgan and Jon’s relationship. And that’s definitely saying something!

There’s also a big plus to this series in the person of Morgan’s amazing dog, Newt. Rescuing Newt in the beginning of A Death in Door County marked the beginning of Morgan’s healing process AND Newt and his amazing nose are the perfect partners for Morgan’s monster hunting adventures.

I’m looking forward to more in this monstrously cozy, quirky mystery series. Because they just keep getting better and better!

Review: Evergreen Chase by Juneau Black + Giveaway

Review: Evergreen Chase by Juneau Black + GiveawayEvergreen Chase: A Shady Hollow Mystery Short Story by Juneau Black
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery, holiday fiction
Series: Shady Hollow #3.5
Pages: 32
Published by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard on November 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

It’s the winter solstice in Shady Hollow, that magical time of year when creatures of all shapes and sizes come together to honor the season and eat as much pie as possible. Reporter Vera Vixen is eager to experience her first holiday in town and is especially looking forward to the unveiling of the solstice tree. But then disaster strikes. The year’s tree—the tallest in the forest—has disappeared without a trace. Can Vera, her best friend, Lenore, and Deputy Orville Braun find the tree and save the season? Or will this year’s solstice be especially dark?

My Review:

Today is Black Friday in the U.S., that unofficial holiday after the official Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Traditionally, this was the day when holiday decorating ‘officially’ kicked off, and anyplace that had not already started playing Xmas carols started doing so with a vengeance. So, as this feels like the right day, at least to me, to start reviewing holiday books, I’m kicking off my holiday season with this Shady Hollow winter solstice story.

This is explicitly not a Christmas story, just as Phantom Pond was not explicitly a Halloween story. The historical and religious underpinnings of both of those holidays in our world don’t exist in the animal-centric world of Shady Hollow.

But that doesn’t mean that something like those holidays wouldn’t, doesn’t or hasn’t arisen in other cultures – and that particularly applies to the winter solstice. Many, many traditions have holidays around the solstice, and Shady Hollow wouldn’t be exceptional in marking the shortest day of the year – even if they might be a bit exceptional in just how they do that marking.

Along with the touch of mystery that makes the series so very much fun!

The tradition in Shady Hollow is to ‘walk’ the specially chosen Solstice tree from the surrounding woods to the center of town, where it will be decorated and feted and brightly lit to chase away the darkness of the longest night.

The trees are chosen decades in advance and tended lovingly by specially appointed treekeepers until their appointed day as the center of the whole town’s attention and celebration.

But someone has stolen this year’s tree – all FIFTY FEET of it – the night before its celebratory walk. The whole town is enraged, incensed, and practically in mourning over the loss of their tree.

It will take the efforts of every animal in town, from Police Bear Orville Braun to ace investigative reporter Vera Vixen to all the birds around town, led by night-owl Professor Heidegger and bookstore owner Lenore the Raven to find the tree in time.

The longest night comes early in Shady Hollow, and time is running out.

Escape Rating B: Shady Hollow may sound a bit twee, but it’s really a LOT more like Zootopia – at least if the movie had been set in Judy Hopp’s rural Bunnyburrow instead of Nick Wilde’s big city. A reflection that reporter Vera Vixen frequently makes herself, as she used to be a resident of one of those big cities but has found cozy Shady Hollow to be a lot more to her taste.

The Shady Hollow series as a whole, are lovely, charming, and very cozy mysteries – and Evergreen Chase is no exception. At the same time, the use of animals as people gives the author all sorts of opportunities to include comments about human behavior hiding in plain sight – or under the bare covering of a pawkerchief.

Like many of the stories in this series, there’s a mystery, but it’s a gentle one. No one is dead, no one is likely to end up dead, but the town’s collective anguish is still VERY real, as someone has literally stolen one of their beloved traditions right out from under them.

That the town pulls together to celebrate the solstice with or without the tree is all part of the series’ charm. That they have their own solstice miracle just adds to the sweetness of both the story and the holiday season – both theirs and ours.

So this feels like its a short story for the many fans of the series, of which I am mostly definitely one. And it turned out to be the perfect start for my holiday reading. (As much as I enjoyed The Wishing Bridge reading it last week made me want to give myself a ‘ten-yard penalty for rushing the season.’ Reading Evergreen Chase felt like a ‘proper’ start to the season.)

It did also remind me of another lovely holiday story that uses animals to tell an entirely different but equally charming human story. If Shady Hollow sounds charming but you’ve never watched Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, well, let this be the season to get the song, “There Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub” stuck in your head, just like it is in mine this time of year!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Black Friday is just a weird day. It’s not a holiday, but it still feels like part of a holiday. Unless one works in retail, because it’s most definitely, absolutely not a holiday under those conditions! Also weird, but along the U.S./Canadian border, even though there is no Thanksgiving Thursday in Canada (Canadian Thanksgiving is in mid-October), there is mostly definitely a Black Friday complete with Black Friday sales.

But it’s a day when not many people may be reading blogs – possibly because in the U.S. they are either still in a turkey coma or because they’re off trying to grab the best Black Friday deals. So, for those who are staying home, I have a bit of a giveaway for you.

It’ll just be a little something to put in someone’s holiday stocking, but it’s just a way to say ‘THANKS!’ to all of you who have spent a bit of time with me over the year at chez Reading Reality.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Twilight Falls by Juneau Black

Review: Twilight Falls by Juneau BlackTwilight Falls (Shady Hollow, #4) by Juneau Black
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery
Series: Shady Hollow #4
Pages: 259
Published by Vintage on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

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.

My Review:

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.

Review: Phantom Pond by Juneau Black

Review: Phantom Pond by Juneau BlackPhantom Pond: A Shady Hollow Halloween Short Story by Juneau Black
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy fantasy, cozy mystery
Series: Shady Hollow #4.5
Pages: 32
Published by Vintage on September 26, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the woodlands around Shady Hollow, there’s a legend about a mysterious creature known as Creeping Juniper. According to local lore, she’s a sort of witch who dwells deep in the woods, casting spells on the shore of Phantom Pond. It’s a harmless old tale, until a prank goes wrong. When a young creature goes missing, all the clues point to Creeping Juniper. But to solve the mystery and rescue an innocent victim, Vera Vixen and her friends need to find a place that doesn’t appear on any maps. Can they discover the location of Phantom Pond before it’s too late?

My Review:

Every society seems to invent a holiday where its denizens can let their hair down, or at least loose the stays on the stricter rules of society, for a day or two – even if they don’t turn those rules completely topsy-turvy.

That’s what Halloween with its trick-or-treating and fake-scary haunted houses – along with the occasional TP’ing of selected houses – has come to be today. However seriously it might have started.

After all, ghost stories are fun as long as no one takes them TOO seriously!

Which leads to Phantom Pond overlooking Shady Hollow, that very cozy little mystery town where all the citizens are anthropomorphized animals. It’s very charming, and so are they. But they are very definitely people, no matter their species, and they are capable of and subject to all the foibles and peccadillos that we are.

Phantom Pond is set on Mischief Night – a VERY accurate re-naming of Halloween – which begins just like one would expect, with decorations and trick-or-treaters and activities for the children as the adults look on indulgently while sipping adult beverages.

Just as our Halloween has its folktales both new and old, and presents a fine opportunity for telling the creepiest stories in the potentially scariest circumstances, Shady Hollow has its own such tales, the most popular and prevalent of which is the story of the witch ‘Creeping Juniper’ who has been stealing adventurous and/or misbehaving children for a century or more.

When one of the little Mischief Night revelers doesn’t turn up the following morning, not at home, not at her best friend’s house, not anywhere – and a vaguely threatening missive from Creeping Juniper is found in her place – everyone fears the worst.

Especially ace reporter Vera Vixen, off on a not so mad quest to comb through ALL the legends of Creeping Juniper to figure out just where the witch’s lair might be hidden.

Only to discover that this year’s Mischief Night has played one last trick on the unsuspecting residents of Shady Hollow.

Escape Rating A-: The premise of the entire Shady Hollow series might seem like a bit of a Mischief Night prank, but it’s honestly adorable, and sits right at the intersection between cozy small town mysteries and cozy fantasies like Legends & Lattes. If Zootopia had taken place in rural Bunnyburrow instead of the metropolis it might look a bit like Shady Hollow.

And if that all sounds like as terrific of a reading time to you as it did to me, start with the first book in the series, Shady Hollow. You won’t be disappointed.

What makes Phantom Pond in particular both so cute, so cozy and such a wonderful Halloween story is the way that it manages to showcase the close-knit coziness of the town and lampshade the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and all together ooky vibe of the best scary stories. Once Mischief Night is over, the story shifts seamlessly but oh-so-realistically scarily into a bit of a thriller, as the whole town searches for a missing little girl and it seems like time is running out.

Then it turns the whole scenario on its head, one more time, into the best kind of cathartic happy ending about mysterious misunderstandings until all their, and our, fears are laid peacefully to rest but no character is left under a ‘Rest in Peace’ marker.

If you’re looking for a Halloween story with just the right amount of scares but not too much, Phantom Road is perfect. If you love small town mysteries with just a touch of magic, Shady Hollow might be your jam, and very tasty jam it is indeed.

I’ve visited Shady Hollow every time there’s a new mystery, and I’ve loved the place each and every time. Which means I have plenty of treats in store this holiday season. The next full-length mystery in Shady Hollow is coming early next month at Twilight Falls, and I have a winter solstice story to catch up with this season at Evergreen Chase.

Happy Holidays!

Review: Hiss Me Deadly by Miranda James

Review: Hiss Me Deadly by Miranda JamesHiss Me Deadly (Cat in the Stacks Mystery) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #15
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley on June 27, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

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!

My Review:

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!