Review: Midsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate

Review: Midsummer Mayhem by Marty WingateMidsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #7
Pages: 278
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Shakespeare comes to Hampshire—and Pru Parke is cast into the role of cunning detective gardener once again.

Pru’s friends and neighbors are abuzz with the news of an acting troupe putting on an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And while many are eager to catch a glimpse of famed actor Ambrose Grant, Pru can’t wait to finally see the spectacular gardens of the private estate where the play will be performed. When the estate’s gardener abruptly quits—frustrated with actors trampling his beloved plants—Pru is called upon for her gardening expertise. She throws herself into creating magical woodland forest scenes, and is quickly drawn into the excitement of putting on a play, as she watches the drama on and off the stage. But the play’s suddenly no longer the thing, when one of the actors turns up murdered. 

Pru’s husband, Detective Inspector Christopher Pearse, relies on Pru’s knowledge of all the players in this particular intrigue, and Pru finds herself using rehearsals to investigate. But playing the role of private eye could prove perilous for Pru, as she closes in on a murderer who won’t let anyone—least of all the gardener—keep him from stopping the show . . . dead.

My Review:

The title of this one seems like kind of a double-pun to me. First, the mystery takes place during the rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I also have the feeling that Greenoak, where amateur sleuth Pru Parke and her husband, D.I. Christopher Pearse, live, runs just second to the more famous Midsomer County in the number of murders per capita.

The Midsomer connection feels particularly apropos for this entry as one of the more famous members of the Shakespeare troupe has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times. (Truthfully, I suspect that every working actor in Britain has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times, whether on the way up, or on the way down. Just as every working New York actor has had multiple appearances in the Law & Order franchise!)

Pru Parke may have been bitten, just a bit, by the acting bug back when she was in school, but she makes her living as one of the estate gardeners at Greenoak, along with her older brother Simon.

Still, that long-ago bit of wishful thinking makes Pru an excellent candidate for set decorator/gardener/general dogsbody for the outdoor Shakespeare production that has taken over the extensive gardens of the closed-up estate next door.

That estate’s regular gardener is a bit of a recluse, and not all that fond of people in general – or actors in particular – and has taken himself off in a huff, leaving the Shakespeare company in the lurch and the estate’s owners in a bit of a pickle.

Pru steps in to fill the breach, with no idea what she’s letting herself in for. Only that one of the stars of the production is an actor that not only her late mother, but every woman of a certain age in town, had a crush on back in the day. (And if Ambrose Grant isn’t intended as an homage to Hugh Grant, I’ll eat a bouquet.)

While Pru is an expert gardener, she is in a bit over her head with the set design, at least until murder enters the scene. When it comes to figuring out whodunit, Pru has become rather expert – a fact that her police detective husband both adores and regrets.

He’s happy that they met in the middle of Pru’s first murder investigation, but always worried when she finds herself in the middle of yet another case.

Because her investigations, as helpful as they usually are, also usually put her right in the middle of the murderer’s path. A path that the murderer is usually determined to clear of all impediments – especially Pru.

Escape Rating B: The Potting Shed mystery series has been fun from Pru’s first outing in The Garden Plot. One of the things that makes this cozy mystery series so enjoyable, at least for this reader, is the character of Pru herself.

The series is Pru’s journey, and it’s been a fascinating one so far. It’s all the more lovely for it being a journey of a woman of a certain age starting her life over at midlife. Pru left behind a successful career in Texas to follow her heart, and to follow her mother’s footsteps back to England.

Along the way, Pru found a new life, fell in love and married, and discovered her long-lost brother. For those of us who are also of a certain age, it is fantastic to have a heroine who represents us, and who exemplifies all of those old cliches about being as young as you feel and that life begins at any age.

The background of this particular case was interesting. Putting on a play, or filming a movie, always makes for a scene rife with over-the-top personalities under high pressure, and provides a backdrop where a disparate group of people congregate to accomplish a goal without necessarily knowing each other.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself is a play within a play, and Midsummer Mayhem comes very close to being a play within a play within a play. There are certainly lots of players who know of each other if not actually know each other, lots of pressure, plenty of secrets, several illicit affairs and even long-lost lovers – and that’s just among the cast.

In that hothouse environment, it’s not really a surprise that someone ends up dead. Especially someone who seems to have been an complete ass – and not the kind portrayed by Bottom in the play.

It’s not a question of why the man is dead – it’s more a question of winnowing down the rather long list of suspects. I’ll admit that I guessed whodunit fairly early on. The fun in this particular case was in figuring out whether those two long-lost lovers would manage to figure out that they belonged together after all.

Just as in the play, a good time was had by all – except the murderer and his victim – and in the end, a lovely story is told, both to the audience watching the production and to the readers of Pru’s latest adventure.

Review: Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda James

Review: Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda JamesSix Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #10
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on October 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are busy decking the halls for the holidays when an unexpected delivery and a shocking murder conspire to shake up the season in this all new installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

December twenty-fifth is right around the corner, and Charlie is making his list and checking it twice. He is doing his best to show some peace and goodwill toward his nosy neighbor Gerry Albritton, a real estate agent who seems to have designs on his house (and maybe on him, as well), while preparing for a very important role, indeed--his first Christmas as a grandfather.

The last thing Charlie expects is to gain several new additions to his family. Charlie finds a box on his doorstep with five kittens inside and a note begging him to keep them safe. With Diesel's help, Charlie welcomes the tiny felines into the Harris household just as Gerry decides it is time to throw a lavish holiday party.

Determined to make her mark on Athena, Gerry instead winds up dead at her very own party. Though attempts to dig into her past come up empty, Charlie and his girlfriend, Helen Louise, witness two heated exchanges involving Gerry before her death: one with a leading citizen and another with the wife of a good friend. Will one of these ladies wind up on the sheriff's naughty list? Charlie and Diesel have to wrap up the case before the special season is ruined by a sinister scrooge.

My Review:

Even though it still feels too early to talk about the Xmas holidays, this was still the perfect book for this week. Why? Because just like Charlie Harris, we got a kitten this week. But we got just the one, while Charlie found five little ones on his and Diesel’s doorstep.

If our two boys turn out to be half the cat-uncle-babysitter that Diesel does, we’ll be very happy. Also totally astonished.

Back to the book…although our itteh bitteh kitteh is utterly adorable.

This is the holiday entry in the cozy mystery series Cat in the Stacks. Our hero, amateur detective and fellow librarian ends up with two mysteries to solve. One mystery has a suitably heartwarming ending for the holiday season and the other is a convoluted murder case.

There is no such thing as a “heartwarming” ending to a murder case. Someone has died before their time, and someone else needs to pay for bringing that time ahead of schedule.

The first part of the mystery is that stealth placement of five kittens on Charlie and Diesel’s doorstep, along with a note that lets Charlie know that although the kittens owner loves them, his or her male parent is not letting said owner keep them at home. Based on the handwriting, the owner is a child – and said parent is being a Grinch this Christmas.

So Charlie’s first mystery is to find the owner of the kittens, so that he can give that male parent a piece of his mind – as well as get the owner’s take on what to do with the kittens. They are almost old enough to be adopted out, so in the six to eight week range. And he can’t keep all five, as much as he wants to. Diesel is exhausted playing uncle to the brood.

At the same time, there’s a much darker mystery wrapped around the sudden advent of his new neighbor, Gerry Albritton. She claims to have lived in tiny Athena all of her life, but no one seems to recognize her. She looks vaguely familiar, but no one can place her. And there are no females of the right age on the well-known Albritton family tree.

Gerry is a mystery. Also a slightly distasteful one. She comes on much too strong to all of the men who get within grabbing distance, and makes everyone, especially Charlie, uncomfortable with her heavy-handed flirting. She’s also had the most garish holiday light display ever seen in Athena set up in, at and on her house.

Charlie needs blackout curtains to sleep at night.

But everyone in town is invited to the big holiday shindig she is hosting – and no one plans to miss it. Including Gerry’s murderer – whoever they might be. Whoever Gerry might be.

Escape Rating B+: This series is a comfort read for me, and I was certainly comforted by reading it. This series is always very cozy, with lots of friendly and family happenings stashed in between the bits of Charlie solving the murder. It is also not a series where you have to read the books in order to get into the action. Although I think it helps to have read at least one or two.

The fact is that I like Charlie. While his penchant for solving murders is a bit outside the usual librarian job description, what makes this series work for me is that Charlie sounds like “one of us”. His experiences as a librarian ring true for me as a librarian. If they didn’t it would throw me out of the story. (This reflects very much on the observations about scientists in Friday’s Putting the Science in Fiction review. When we know something intimately, and an author goes there, if the scenario doesn’t ring true the rest of the book falls flat. Or gets thrown against a wall.)

Charlie reads like “one of us librarians” because his creator is a real-life librarian. I’d be happy to have drinks at a library conference with either one of them.

I also like that Diesel, Charlie’s big, handsome Maine Coon cat, is intelligent for a cat but does not veer into human intelligence. I love Joe Grey in Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s series of the same name, but one cat detective is enough. Instead, Diesel makes himself a big part of the story by doing what cats do best – taking care of their people, making sure their people take care of them and getting into just the right amount of mischief.

Although Diesel’s role in this story is to keep the clowder of rambunctious kittens OUT of mischief. It’s an exhausting job, but somebody definitely has to do it!

The solution to the mystery of who dropped the kittens at Charlie’s door had just the right kind of light touch to offset the family crisis that Charlie has to deal with and especially with the increasing mystery that surrounds Gerry Albritton. Not just the mystery of her death, but first the mystery of her life. It’s impossible for either the police or Charlie to figure out whodunnit until they are able to discover who it was that got done.

Gerry’s life is a tragedy that turned into a triumph and ultimately back into the tragedy of her death.Once they figured out who she was, it was all too easy to figure out who benefitted from her death.

But the final tragedy was appropriately leavened by the advent of the most rambunctious of the kittens into Charlie and Diesel’s life. For good this time!

Review: Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Bookshop by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Bookshop (Liz Talbot Mystery #7) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #7
Pages: 270
Published by Henery Press on May 29, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lowcountry PI Liz Talbot returns to the streets of Charleston in the seventh installment of Susan M. Boyer’s USA TODAY bestselling mystery series.

Between an epic downpour and a King Tide, those historic streets are flooded—and dangerous. A late night tragic accident along the Lower Battery leads Liz Talbot straight to her next case.

Who’s the client? Well, now, therein lies the first puzzle. When the police arrive at the scene of the accident, Poppy Oliver claims she’s only trying to help.

But the dent on the front of her Subaru and the victim’s injuries provoke a certain Charleston police detective’s suspicious nature. A wealthy, anonymous benefactor hires Liz and her partner Nate Andrews to prove Poppy Oliver’s innocence.

What exactly was Poppy Oliver up to? Is she a random good Samaritan who happens upon the accident scene? Or perhaps this tragedy wasn’t an accident. She just might be his abused wife’s accomplice.

Why does everyone involved in this case have a sudden burning urge for reading material, leading them to the same charming bookshop along the waterfront?

From a risqué, exclusive club in an old plantation to an upscale resale shop in the historic King Street shopping district to a downtown graveyard crawling with ghosts, Liz tracks a group of women who band together to help victims of domestic violence.

In her most challenging case yet, Liz fears she may find a killer, but justice may prove elusive.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

LOWCOUNTRY BOOKSHOP by Susan M. Boyer | A Henery Press Mystery. If you like one, you’ll probably like them all.

My Review:

This a story about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. A whole bunch of roads and a whole lot of hells. And plenty of good intentions that go into so many wrong directions.

Phillip Drayton is dead, to begin with. Someone ran him over during a pounding rainstorm just around a blind curve near his house.

It looks like a hit and run, at least at first. But a woman was found standing over the body, her car with a dented fender just in the right place to have been the cause of death. Poor Poppy Oliver says she was just being a good Samaritan, but Detective Sonny Ravenal is absolutely certain that she did it and just doesn’t want to admit it.

But there are at least two people on Poppy’s side. A mysterious benefactor who is paying for the best lawyer in town, who has in turn just hired Liz and Nate to investigate, and Liz Talbot’s guardian spirit Colleen. The lawyer is doing his job, as much as he enjoys riling up Liz in the process.

Colleen, on the other hand, can read Poppy’s mind – and Colleen knows she’s innocent. Which doesn’t tell her a damn thing about who might be guilty.

Then the evidence starts piling up, and the case goes from relatively straightforward to absolutely insane, right along with the shenanigans at Liz’ parents’ house – not that anything is all that far out of what passes for normal on that front.

It looks like Drayton’s wife was being abused, and that makes the victim seem a whole lot less sympathetic. On the other hand, not all of his injuries are consistent with a hit and run, or even a hit and not run. Cars don’t generally taser their victims before they run them over.

But the group of women who assist abused women in getting away from their abusers sometimes do. And seem to all be frequenting not just the same local bookstore but browsing the same display and actually buying multiple copies of the same book.

They might not be connected to the case. But they might.

The more Liz investigates, the weirder things get. Which isn’t actually atypical for any of her cases. The evidence is contradictory, and nothing quite seems to add up.

Until it suddenly does, and the real villain tries to subtract Liz, once and for all.

Escape Rating B: I picked this book for this week because I wanted some light, absorbing fiction to read during some recovery time, and I knew this series would take care of that admirably. And it certainly did.

There are lots of red herrings in this case, sending Liz on lots of wild goose chases. One of the terrific things about the way this particular case works is that pretty much everyone, with the exception of the villain and for once Liz’ cop friend Sonny, seem to be bent on doing the right thing. And while they all are to some extent, they also aren’t.

One of the things that was slightly off was Sonny’s attitude to Poppy. He was much too dogged in pursuing the expedient possibility instead of looking for the real one. He’s usually a better detective than that and it didn’t quite ring true.

A significant part of the story, both in the sense of a group obfuscating the issue to further their own agenda and in the sense that they were determinedly doing the right thing even if some of their methods were underhanded, was the group of women rescuing abused women. Not only did they mean well but they generally did well. And their inclusion in this story did a good job of shining a bit more light on a terrible problem that happens everywhere, even in tiny towns like Stella Maris.

The problem they introduce in the story is that their need for secrecy comes into direct conflict with Liz and Nate’s need to investigate the case. They are also part of what makes the resolution so convoluted. No one really wants to expose the details of their operation, but at the same time no one wants an innocent woman to be tried for a crime she did not commit.

As fascinating as the case itself turned out to be, the villain came a bit out of left field. I can’t say that at least some of the clues weren’t there, but either he did a really, really good job of misdirection or he didn’t appear enough until the very end.

And as much as I love this series, a very little of Liz’ family (other than her husband and partner Nate) goes a very, very long way. Your mileage may vary.

Review: Lowcountry Bonfire by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Bonfire by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Bonfire (Liz Talbot Mystery #6) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #6
Pages: 268
Published by Henery Press on June 27, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Private Investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews have worked their share of domestic cases. So when Tammy Sue Lyerly hires them to find out what her husband is hiding, they expect to find something looney but harmless. After all, this is the guy who claims to have been a DEA agent, a champion bull rider, and a NASCAR driver. But when he turns up dead the morning after Liz and Nate deliver the incriminating photos, Tammy is the prime suspect.

Questioning the truth of Zeke Lyerly’s tall-tales, Liz and Nate race to uncover small town scandals, long buried secrets, and the victim’s tumultuous past to keep Tammy Sue out of jail and the case from going up in flames.

My Review:

After a few serious books, and with a few serious books yet to come, it felt like time for something a bit lighter and fluffier, even if that light and fluffy included just a bit of murder. So I was more than ready to return to the Carolina lowcountry, the island of Stella Maris, and the investigations of Liz Talbot and her husband Nate Andrews.

This particular entry in the series takes off like a house on fire. Although it literally begins with a car on fire. There’s no mystery about the fire. Tammy Sue Lyerly sets her husband’s prized Mustang, an absolutely gorgeous classic car, on fire. In the middle of the street. With all his clothes inside it.

Tammy Lee just found out that her husband has been cheating on her. She hired Liz and Nate to find out what she didn’t want to know. And they found out.

But what no one expected to find was the body of her husband, Zeke Lyerly, crammed into the trunk of his Mustang. The only saving grace is that the body was found before the fire reached the trunk.

Of course Tammy Lee is the prime suspect. But Liz doesn’t believe she did it. Not that she wasn’t angry enough, or even that she was completely overcome when the body was discovered. Liz doesn’t think Tammy Lee committed the murder because she’s pretty sure that Zeke died of strychnine poisoning, and that’s not exactly the hallmark of the crime of passion that Tammy Lee would have committed.

So who did?

Some cases are all about the how. Those are the ones where forensics play a big part, and the investigators find themselves trying to figure out the complicated shenanigans that resulted in murder.

There are plenty of complicated shenanigans in Zeke Lyerly’s death, but when Liz and Nate investigate, the most difficult question they have to solve is “just who the hell was Zeke Lyerly, anyway?”

It’s not just that he was away from Stella Maris for 20 years, but that those 20 years seem to be a complete blank. The deeper that Liz and Nate dive into Zeke’s life, the more they begin to suspect that a whole lot more of Zeke’s really tall tales were really true. Especially the ones about his being in the CIA.

Did someone from his mysterious past track him down and kill him? Or is the motive, after all, a lot closer to home?

Escape Rating B+: This was one of those ‘right book at the right time’ situations. I’ve read a few heavier and weightier books recently. Even I Met a Traveller in an Ancient Land has a surprising amount of emotional heft considering its small size. So I was in the mood for something a bit less fraught.

This series always serves a tasty slice of pecan pie along with a juicy murder. And just a bit of paranormal woo-woo to add a bit of spice to the body. I suspect that how one feels about this series may relate, at least in part, to how one feels about the character of Colleen, Liz’ childhood friend. Colleen is a ghost, perpetually stuck at age 17 when she committed suicide. And her ghostly, perhaps even heavenly mission is to protect the island of Stella Maris. A mission she often stretches just a bit into protecting and helping Liz.

Like all cozy mysteries, there’s a group of regulars that surround Liz and Nate. In addition to the ghostly Colleen, that case of regulars is mostly made of up Liz’ family, all residents of Stella Maris, including her older brother Blake, the island’s chief of police. And he’s usually just thrilled to be working with his kid sister.

As a coastal island, Stella Maris has a lot of seafood restaurants, and that’s very appropriate, because this series always serves up some tasty red herrings. This case is interesting because it starts out so mundane, veers into some surprisingly strange places, but eventually, returns to motives that are close to home. And says a lot about acts and their consequences along the way.

As always, this was a fun read. I like Liz as a character to follow, and her relationship with Nate is still romantic without the romance getting in the way of solving the mystery. In real life, her parents would drive me bonkers, but then, this is fiction and not real life. A little of them still goes a long way.

But it is Liz that we follow, and she always leads her readers to interesting places and cases. I’ll be back in Stella Maris for the next book in this series, Lowcountry Bookshop.

Review: Lowcountry Book Club by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Book Club by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Book Club (Liz Talbot Mystery #5) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #5
Pages: 268
Published by Henery Press on July 5, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who could have pushed Shelby Poinsett out her second-floor library window besides her husband? In USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author Susan M. Boyer’s new novel Lowcountry Book Club, Private Investigator Liz Talbot enters a tight-knit community of Charleston, SC’s genteel women who have gossip to spill, secrets of their own, and a hundred-year-old book club they are dying to join.

Newlywed couple and business partners Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews are hired by a prestigious Charleston law firm to prove the innocence of Shelby Poinsett’s husband, Clint Gerdhart, before his trial begins. As the two begin to dig into the case, they learn that Shelby may not have been the perfect wife everyone thought she was. When Liz uncovers a photo of Shelby and Sonny, a Talbot family friend and Charleston police officer, looking too cozy for comfort, Shelby’s true character comes into question. Did the woman who ran a book club, adopted animals, and volunteered at a homeless shelter have a past that would make someone kill?

As Liz interviews the eighteen members of the closed club, she notices an anger bubbling under these women’s polite exteriors. Through conversation, she finds that the hostile undertone of the book club began when Shelby was named president. Liz is convinced that one of them knows who pushed Shelby Poinsett out her window—or may be the murderer herself.

Liz must run the gamut of Southern society to keep an innocent man out of jail and bring a killer to justice. With Boyer’s authentic Southern voice, Lowcountry Book Club merges Charleston charm with a mystery that leaves readers guessing until the very end.

My Review:

After finishing The Queens of Innis Lear and The Poppy War, both epic fantasies and both epic tragedies, I went looking for something just a bit (OK a lot) lighter and brighter. And remembered the Liz Talbot series. I read the first few books (starting with Lowcountry Boil), enjoyed them, but ran into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum and picked up the subsequent books but never got around to them.

The seventh book in the series, Lowcountry Bookshop is coming out next month, which made this the perfect time to get caught up. I find mysteries to be a good “palate-cleanser” for reading, and this was definitely the right time!

The series features private investigator Liz Talbot, her business partner and new husband, Nate Andrews, and Liz’ guardian ghost, the spirit of her childhood best friend Colleen. Yes, you read that right, one of the main characters is a ghost.

But in spite of the woo-woo that Colleen occasionally contributes, the mystery in this story is very firmly grounded in the reality of here and now. Shelby Poinsett is dead, her husband is accused of her murder, and his lawyer believes that he is innocent and hires Liz and Nate to find the evidence before it is too late.

Shelby was rich, her husband inherits and no one else was in the house. It seems pretty cut and dried, and it looks like Shelby died for the oldest reasons in the book.

Except that no one believes her husband did it. And he already has his half of their very considerable fortune, and did not need to bump off his wife to get his hands on the cash. Theories abound. If it wasn’t the money, maybe jealousy was the motivating factor. There are nasty rumors that Shelby was having an affair.

But no one seriously believes that, either.

It seems impossible to believe that she died over the traditions of a 100-plus year old book club, but it’s starting to seem like what happens at book club stays at book club – at least until Liz prevails on old Southern hospitality and a few people’s need for hot gossip to wedge her way, if not into the inner circle, at least to a near-enough fringe to overhear the juiciest bits.

When someone starts taking poorly aimed potshots at both Liz and her best police pal, it’s obvious that they are getting close to something – even if they still can’t figure out what. Or who. Or why.

Escape Rating B: Lowcountry Book Club is just plain good fun, and it was exactly what I needed this week.

This is a case with a lot of red herrings – an entire school of them. On the one hand, no one seems to have wanted Shelby dead. She seems to be one woman who really was every bit as nice as people originally claimed she was,

Some of the “ladies” in the book club are pretty vile, or at least venal. Even so, the possible murder motives that stem from the book club seem pretty thin, at best. Unless someone really is seriously off their meds.

A lot of the investigation in this case involves removing possibilities, because they begin with a ton of potential suspects, no evidence at all, and very little time before the trial. But they also begin with the notes from the first investigator who worked on the case, and that’s where they finally unearth the leads, which are just a bit glaringly obvious in that direction if no other.

Lowcountry Book Club, in spite of the murder investigation, is a light, quick read. The two leads, Liz and Nate, are fun to follow and it’s a pleasure to see them working together in the middle of their happy ever after, in spite of some of the craziness that brought them together.

I was a bit disappointed that after all of the buildup, the motive for Shelby Poinsett’s murder was so… mundane. She sounded like such a great person, and there was so much drama in the investigation, that when the killer was eventually revealed it seemed a bit out of left field and felt a bit flat.

But I was still reminded of just how much i liked Liz and enjoyed the earlier books in the series. I’ll be back for Lowcountry Bonfire.

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty Wingate

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty WingateFarewell, My Cuckoo (Birds of a Feather Mystery #4) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #4
Pages: 268
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on April 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Julia Lanchester must defend her love nest from an invasive species: her boyfriend’s sister. And then there’s the little matter of murder . . .


“The cuckoo comes in April and sings its song in May. In June it changes tune and July it flies away.”

Wedding bells are ringing in the small British village of Smeaton-under-Lyme. Julia Lanchester’s second-in-command at the local tourist center is finally getting married, and the lovebirds are giving Julia and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, ideas about their own future. But before anyone can say “Will you,” Michael’s flighty older sister, Pammy, crashes the party, fresh off a breakup and lugging all her worldly possessions around with her in a tangle of plastic bags.

Before long, Julia’s cozy cottage starts feeling more like Pammy’s bachelorette pad. To keep herself from going cuckoo, Julia throws herself into her pet projects at work—until death disrupts her plans. First a body is found on the estate. Then the police discover that Pammy was the last one to see the man alive. And soon Julia gets the feeling that if she ever wants her home—or her boyfriend—back, she’ll have to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means breaking a few eggs.

My Review:

For every single relationship that has hit the rocks over a cheating spouse, an economic pitfall or irreconcilable differences, there are probably at least two that have come to a sad end because of a relative, on one side or the other, who is incapable of properly parsing the sentence, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” and just won’t leave – along with the person in the relationship who seems to be incapable of making them leave long after they’ve worn out whatever reluctant welcome they had in the first place.

In the case of Farewell My Cuckoo, it’s Michael’s irresponsible sister Pammy who has become the cuckoo in Julia and Michael’s rather tiny little cottage nest in Smeaton-under-Lyme. To the point where I half-expected Pammy to become the corpse in this entry in the series, with Julia as the prime suspect. (For more background on Julia, Michael and Smeaton-under-Lyme, start with the first book in the series, The Rhyme of the Magpie)

Instead, the mystery takes a different path, as an unidentified man is found dead near a local pond. While no one knows exactly who he is, it turns out that there are plenty of people in the village who had at least a nodding acquaintance with “Bob”, even though no one seems to know any of the truly pertinent facts about the man, like his full name, or even where he was staying. If he was staying.

Julia, along with her friend Willow and more than a bit of help from a tourist visitor as well as the seemingly immovable Pammy, can’t resist looking into Bob’s identity and what brought him to live “rough” somewhere in the neighborhood.

Nor can she resist poking her nose into other local mysteries, especially the fervent pursuit of her friend Nuala by a rude and unwelcome stranger who seems to be able to turn on the charm when he needs to get his way. A stranger who seems perfectly willing to mislead Nuala about his own marital status in order to worm his way into her bakery and teashop business. And who has a surprising connection to the late, lamented Bob.

Possibly even a connection worth killing for.

Escape Rating B: For a series that centers around birds, the mysteries are salted with a surprising number of tasty red herrings. It is all too easy to understand why Julia’s amateur sleuthing so often leads her astray – because the reader is right there with her.

Not that some of those false leads don’t uncover important little mysteries of their own, even if their pursuit takes Julia away from the central problem.

As a cozy mystery, Julia’s amateur investigations often take her deep into the heart of village life, and Farewell My Cuckoo is no exception. Poor dead Bob leads not only to his killer, but also to the breakup of a marriage and a dubious business proposition, as well as to a villager who has gone off the rails and to the final, sad end of a long-lost love.

A lot happens, and it is all, in its way, fascinating. But the central problem remains throughout the story, and it isn’t poor Bob’s corpse and how it got there, although it should be. A lot of time is taken up with Pammy and her interloping. The reader will gnash their teeth at the way that both Julia and Michael switch from enabling Pammy’s behavior to her face while vocally resenting it behind her back. And this reader at least was gnashing right beside them.

Julia’s solutions to the mysteries that she comes across are generally interesting and her investigations are often quite a lot of fun. She does, unfortunately, have a penchant both for finding herself in uncomfortable personal situations and getting herself and her helpers into deadly danger, and Farewell My Cuckoo was no exception on either front.

As much as they sometimes drive me a bit crazy, I really like both of this author’s heroines, and find them easy to identify with and fun to follow. But I’ll confess that Pru Parke of the Potting Shed series is my favorite, so I’m really looking forward to the next book that series, Midsummer Mayhem, coming in November.

Tour Participants

April 9 – Babs Book Bistro – GUEST POST

April 9 – View from the Birdhouse – SPOTLIGHT

April 10 – Blogger Nicole Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

April 11 – Reading Reality – REVIEW

April 12 – Readeropolis – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 13 – Teresa Trent Author Blog – SPOTLIGHT

April 14 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT

April 15 – Varietats – REVIEW

April 16 – Back Porchervations – REVIEW

April 17 – Mysteries with Character – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 18 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW

April 19 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT

April 20 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW

April 21- Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW

April 22 – Cozy Up With Kathy – GUEST POST

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda James

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda JamesClaws for Concern (Cat in the Stacks, #9) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #9
Pages: 277
Published by Berkley Books on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are embroiled in a new mystery when a cold case suddenly heats up in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has been enjoying some peace and quiet with his new grandson when a mysterious man with a connection to an unsolved murder starts visiting the library...

My Review:

April 8-14 is National Library Week. In honor of this week, one that celebrations Libraries and Librarians, I searched the virtually towering TBR pile for a book that related to libraries. Instead of choosing something serious, I went for the lighthearted approach, and snagged Claws for Concern, a cozy mystery by a librarian that features a librarian-cum-amateur sleuth.

While the book managed to be mostly light-hearted, in spite of the surprising number of murders that librarian Charlie Harris seems to trip over in his small Mississippi town, there was also a bit of real librarian seriousness in the background, which makes this the perfect book for this week after all.

The Cat in the Stacks series, which began with Murder Past Due, features the extremely large Maine Coon cat Diesel and his human, librarian Charlie Harris. Diesel does not solve crimes, and he never does anything that is not within the bounds of normal feline behavior, but he is probably the reason a lot of people read the series. We all want a cat just like him because he’s not merely large and intelligent (on the scale of cat intelligence – not human) but he is also incredibly well-behaved.

But of course it’s the human’s point of view that we follow. Librarian Charlie Harris, in spite of his penchant for involving himself in murder investigations, is very much “one of us”. The series is written by a librarian, and Charlie, at least at his actual work, is quite true to life. He does the things that many of us do, puts up with many of the things we have to put up with, and has many of the same gripes and complaints that real-life practicing librarians do, as well as many of the joys and intellectual challenges that make up library-life.

The murder in this particular entry is a cold case. It was refreshing not to have Charlie trip over yet another dead body, as the population of tiny Athena Mississippi and its surrounds would be decimated if he kept up at the rate he was going. But this cold case turns out to be tied to his family, albeit tangentially.

Long before the aunt from whom Charlie inherited his lovely house married the man that Charlie knew as his uncle, said uncle was previously married and divorced. And had a child he never knew about. That child is now in his 60s, seems a bit down on his luck, and is haunting Athena looking for information about the father he never knew.

But the poor man was also the suspect in a long-ago multiple murder, and it seems as if there is someone in town who either wants to settle the old score – or who wants to keep old Bill Delaney from revealing what he knows about that bloody, long ago, night.

Charlie isn’t sure whether his recently discovered cousin is a murderer who got off scot-free, or about to be the victim of a murder in the here and now. But he and his new associate are determined to find out – one way or another.

Escape Rating B: This is a cozy series, so it’s always a light read – no matter how many dead bodies Charlie stumbles over. This particular entry feels unique in that there are no new murders. And that’s probably good for the population of Athena.

Instead, Charlie finds himself investigating a cold case with the help of a new friend who has a history of conducting his own amateur investigations in a nearby town. Jack Pemberton writes true-crime books, investigates cold cases, and wants to feature Charlie and other amateur sleuths in his next book. Together they bring new light to a case that everyone believed was cut and dried if not open and shut.

The process for opening the investigation reads very much like an oral history project, something conducted by many librarians and archivists (Charlie is both) over the years. There is no new forensic evidence – only evidence that may have been overlooked or just needs to be looked at in a new light.

But with a 20-year-old case Charlie and Jack have to find people who were around at the time, and interview them. Not that they don’t think everyone was interviewed at the time, but they need to form their own impressions. And it is always possible that someone remembers something they didn’t back then, or that someone was covering for someone who is now beyond earthly justice.

It is always fun to follow Charlie as he works, whether it’s his work at the library or his work as an amateur detective. Especially when he brings Diesel along with him. Athena is a nice place to visit, Charlie is a terrific person to visit it with, and I always enjoy my time with Diesel. This series is a comfort read for me, and I know I’ll be back for more when the mood arises.

One serious library issue gets raised early in the book, and it’s one that I want to talk about before I close. As a volunteer staff member at the Athena Public Library, Charlie has access to the library circulation system. He can look up people’s library cards, see where they live and what they’ve checked out. In libraries, this is a huge privacy issue, and there have been plenty of court cases about what staff can reveal to anyone other than the cardholder, including law enforcement. But when Charlie discovers that the old man who keeps coming into the library is looking up Charlie’s own address in the old City Directories, Charlie can’t resist the temptation to look up the man’s library card and see who he is and where he lives. Charlie knows he’s not supposed to do this, he has resisted the temptation on previous cases, but can’t resist temptation when he knows that this person is looking for him or his family and casing his house. Charlie feels guilty about it immediately afterwards, and so he should. Protecting patron privacy is one of the cornerstones of library service. He does not let himself off easily for his transgression, nor should he.

In celebration of National Library Week, please visit your local library and/or (preferably AND) tell your local powers that be that you value your library and want to see it continue to be funded and to serve your community.

Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda James

Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda JamesThe Silence of the Library (Cat in the Stacks, #5) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #5
Pages: 308
Published by Berkley on January 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone in Athena, Mississippi, knows Charlie Harris, the librarian with a rescued Maine coon cat named Diesel. He’s returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but a celebrated author’s visit draws an unruly swarm of fanatic mystery buffs…and one devious killer.

It’s National Library Week, and the Athena Public Library is planning an exhibit to honor the centenary of famous novelist Electra Barnes Cartwright—creator of the beloved Veronica Thane series.

Charlie has a soft spot for Cartwright’s girl detective stories (not to mention an extensive collection of her books!). When the author agrees to make a rare public appearance, the news of her whereabouts goes viral overnight, and series devotees and book collectors converge on Athena.

After all, it’s rumored that Cartwright penned Veronica Thane stories that remain under wraps, and one rabid fan will stop at nothing—not even murder—to get hold of the rare books…

My Review:

I opened The Silence of the Library immediately after I finished Out of Circulation. I was still looking for comfort reads, and I found Diesel, Charlie Harris and the fine people of Athena Mississippi very comfortable to spend more time with.

But as comfortable a read as this was, it also confirmed my opinion that series like this are not meant to be read back to back (to back). Some of what is cozy for one book at a time starts to feel just a bit cloying when repeated.

And the central theme of this mystery just wasn’t quite as interesting as the classic mystery theme of Out of Circulation. On that, one’s reading mileage may certainly vary.

The Silence of the Library of the title does not refer to an actual silent library. I think the librarian-sleuth of the series, Charlie Harris, would agree that few 21st century libraries are ever silent – except possibly when they are closed. The days of the shushing librarian are far in the past, if they ever existed at all.

Instead, the title is reminiscent of those of classic juvenile mystery series like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys. The first Nancy Drew story was The Secret of the Old Clock, Trixie Belden’s first outing was in The Secret of the Mansion, while the Hardy Boys first adventure was The Tower Treasure. All the titles of all the series sounded a lot like The Silence of the Library, as intended.

Many people read (and still read) those old series, and a lot of us have fond memories of the books. The old books, the original copies that is, have become collectibles. Hasn’t everything?

Like many people, Charlie Harris has fond memories of reading those old series, including local author Electra Barnes Cartwright and the young detective she created, Veronica Thane. But unlike most people, when Charlie inherited his aunt’s house in Athena, he also inherited her extensive collection of all of those old series, including a series of first-edition Veronica Thane.

And that’s where the story begins. The Athena Public Library plans to feature all of those beloved series as part of their National Library Week display, so when they discover that Electra Barnes Cartwright is still alive (at nearly 100), lucid, and living near Athena, they make plans to invite her to the celebration for as much of the event as she’s willing and able to handle.

News of her first public appearance in decades brings all the crazy collectors out of the proverbial woodwork – and exposes the mercenary nature of EBC’s relatives. Everyone seems to want a piece of the old lady while she’s still around to take pieces out of.

It’s all fun and games (well, not really fun for Charlie or the library) until the dead bodies start piling up. Then it turns into a case for Veronica Thane herself. But since she’s not available, librarian and amateur detective Charlie Harris will just have to step in and solve the mystery in her place.

Escape Rating B: This was fun and I enjoyed it, but there were a few too many crazy people and not enough Diesel to make me as happy about this one as I was Out of Circulation.

Part of what I love about this series is that Charlie Harris feels like a real librarian (because his creator IS a real librarian). Charlie reads like someone I’d meet or hear speak at a conference. However, the downside of that verisimilitude is that the situations he gets into, except for the actual investigations, also feel really close to home.

There are crazy collectors just like the ones he meets in the story. Unfortunately, part of the reality of dealing with the general public is that all sorts of behaviors appear at our public service desks, including every nasty thing that happens in this story – except the murders. In other words, I didn’t like most of the characters introduced for the purposes of this story, but I have met all too many like them in real life.

The fanaticism of the collectors and the insularity of their world also reminded me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb – although this time it’s not the author who is so nasty that everyone expects them to be the victim long before it happens. But there’s a similar flavor.

The look back at those well-loved juvenile mystery series will be fascinating to any bibliophile, even one like me who dipped their toes into the series but didn’t fall head over heels. At the same time, the story within a story, where Charlie is reading one of the Veronica Thane books and discovers parallels between the story and “real life” will bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers those books fondly.

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlayBooks Can Be Deceiving (Library Lover's Mystery, #1) by Jenn McKinlay
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Library Lover's Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on July 5th 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lindsey is getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a New York editor visits town, creating quite a buzz. Lindsey's friend Beth wants to sell the editor her children's book, but Beth's boyfriend, a famous author, gets in the way. When they go to confront him, he's found murdered-and Beth is the prime suspect. Lindsey has to act fast before they throw the book at the wrong person.

My Review:

I discovered this series as a read-alike for the Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda James, and it certainly. Both feature real-seeming librarians in almost-real libraries in small towns that are just perfect. Although I did miss Diesel, the librarian’s very large cat from the Cat in the Stacks series.

But where the Cat in the Stacks series is set in Athena Mississippi, the Library Lovers mysteries hail from Briar Creek Connecticut. Let’s just that the autumns are obviously a lot blustrier in coastal Connecticut than in the landlocked parts of Mississippi.

Unlike Charlie Harris at the beginning of the Cat in the Stacks series, Library Director Lindsey Norris is the relatively new director of the small town Briar Creek Public Library. She is also female, single, unencumbered and in her mid-30s – very different from widowed, 50-something Charlie with his grown children – and Diesel.

Lindsey on the other hand, is still feeling her way professionally and personally. Briar Creek is her first posting as the library director, and it’s not a career turn she had planned on. She had been an archivist at one of the Yale University libraries when budget cuts forced her to look in other directions. She found the position in Briar Creek because her best friend from grad school is the children’s librarian there.

Being a new, first-time director has its challenges. But no one plans on having one of their staff, particularly a friend, accused of murder. It’s difficult to tell which is worse, that Beth had both the motive and the opportunity for murdering her ex, or that the local sheriff is so determined to take the easy way out and place the blame on the “woman scorned” that he isn’t even looking for any other suspects.

He’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, either, and his bull-headedness is clearly driving the detective from the state Bureau of Investigation bonkers.

But with the local sheriff doing his level best to make sure Beth is found guilty, and the local press more than willing to stir up trouble just for the ratings, it’s up to Lindsey to focus her research skills on the late and not very lamented, to see if there’s someone else who might have a motive to end his existence.

The problem is that Lindsey’s research skills, as formidable as they are, barely keep her one step ahead of the killer – a step that closes faster than she expected.

Escape Rating B: I came down with the flu, and was looking for comfort reading again. As this will be posted just before I run off to the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, yet another library mystery seemed like a good fit.

Lindsey Norris does seem like “one of us”, much as Charlie Harris does. And for the same reason – her creator is also a library worker. But where I’d love to sit down and have coffee with Charlie, Lindsey reminds me much more of the “road not taken”. I often thought about becoming a library director but when I was interested I wasn’t able to make the leap, and eventually I realized that it just wasn’t my calling in the profession.

Seeing what Lindsey deals with, even in a fictional and perfectly imperfect library reminds me that I was right.

This story is the introduction to the series, the characters and the town of Briar Creek, and it does put the reader firmly into the middle of the action. Lindsey, as a transplant from somewhere else, is still warming up to the little town, and vice-versa, which makes her a good point of view character for the reader.

As is often the case, the case itself, the murder at the heart of the mystery, is just a bit over the top, but the scenes of small town life and Lindsey fitting herself into it are well done. The reader can certainly see why she’s fallen in love with the place.

A lot of what happens in the Briar Creek Public Library is very true to library life, both the good and the bad. Every library, big and small, has patrons just like those in Briar Creek, the good, the bad, the loud, the demanding, the weird and the obstreperous.

The staff, while occasionally a bit too good to be true and sometimes a bit too bad or weird to be true, is also quite  true-to-life. And unfortunately that includes the nasty character of Ms. Cole, the head of the circulation department and the disapprover of everything that Lindsey, Beth and anyone not the previous (and deceased) library director. That Ms. Cole can’t let go of her resentment of change and the advent of the 21st century is unfortunately all too plausible. I’ve worked both with and for people like her in my career (and supervised a few), and saying that it is never fun is a serious understatement.

But Lindsey is the new director of the library. That makes her Ms. Cole’s boss, whether either or them likes it or not. That Lindsey, with just about six months tenure under her belt, has not figured out what to do about Ms. Cole yet is not surprising. The woman is a fixture in the library and the community – even if a frequently resented one. The problem isn’t just that Ms. Cole challenges Lindsey’s authority at every turn, although that is a problem.

What I found questionable, to the point where it threw me out of the story, is that Lindsey isn’t even thinking about what she should do about Ms. Cole. While the reality is that the answer may be very little, she’s at the point in her job where she should be at least thinking about some changes. This disturbed me because Lindsey makes it clear at one point that she is aware that part of the joy of the job from Ms. Cole’s perspective is to torment and browbeat the library shelvers, who are usually teenagers in their very first job. While life isn’t fair, and bad things happen to good people, etc., etc., etc., for Lindsey to be aware of this and not even be thinking about what to do about this aspect of Ms. Cole’s performance of her duties is problematic.
And now I’ll get down off my soapbox.

But if you like cozy mystery series like Cat in the Stacks, or other small town mystery series that feature the mainstays of the town, Books Can Be Deceiving is a lot of fun. I have the other books in the series and I’m looking forward to returning to Briar Creek the next time I need a comfort read.

Reviewer’s Note: One of the reviews listed in Goodreads for this book was written by a dear and departed friend. I knew that if she liked it, I would too. I wish I could talk about it with her, because I’d love to hear the snark that she left out of her review!

Review: Out of Circulation by Miranda James

Review: Out of Circulation by Miranda JamesOut of Circulation (Cat in the Stacks, #4) 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 #4
Pages: 289
Published by Berkley on January 29th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone in Athena, Mississippi, knows Charlie Harris, the librarian with a rescued Maine coon cat named Diesel. He's returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but when a feud erupts between the town's richest ladies, the writing on the wall spells murder.

The Ducote sisters are in a tiff with Vera Cassity over the location of this year's library fundraising gala, and Charlie would rather curl up in a corner than get into the fray. It seems everyone--even his housekeeper Azalea--has it in for Vera. And at the gala, she gives them good reason, with a public display of rancor aimed at anyone who gets in her way.

But those bitter words wind up being her last. When Charlie discovers Azalea standing over Vera's dead body, it's up to him--with a little help from Diesel--to clear Azalea's name, and catch a killer before his last chapter is finished.

My Review:

Part of what I enjoy so much about the Cat in the Stacks mystery series is that Charlie Harris feels like “one of us” – one of us librarians that is. He’s someone that I could imagine sitting down with at a library conference, laughing about our coincidentally shared last name and swapping stories about the library career we have very much in common.

And telling each other cat stories, because Diesel is definitely a cat worth talking about. Diesel may be extra-large, even for a Maine Coon (a typically large breed) but Diesel’s outsized personality is all cat. He doesn’t solve crimes, he doesn’t nudge clues, but he does provide his person and the people that surround him with outsized doses of sympathy when needed and love all the time, as well as the occasionally well-deserved “diss” when he feels ignored.

They all do that, too. You haven’t been seriously dissed until you’ve been dissed by a cat who believes he hasn’t gotten his or her due – and they all think that on occasion, no matter how good we usually are at being catservants.

There are also a lot of librarians who are mystery readers, and a lot of librarians who are owned by cats. This particular story puts those two well-known penchants together into a marvelously cozy little mystery.

In the end, it isn’t a surprise that Vera Cassity was murdered – it’s much more of a surprise that it took so long. And that it happened in the middle of a mystery-themed gala fundraiser for the Athena Public Library.

Vera wasn’t merely unpopular, she seemed to go out of her way to piss people off. That someone had finally had enough isn’t much of a surprise.

But what is a surprise is that the Sheriff seems to be concentrating his investigative attention on Charlie’s long-time housekeeper Azalea Berry. Not because Azalea had any more motive than anyone else, but because digging into any dirt he can find on Azalea will splash mud onto her daughter Kanesha – who looks to be the Sheriff’s rival in a not-too-distant election.

Of course, in this cozy mystery, the red herrings abound, and nothing is quite as it seems. Charlie, as always, does finally manage to figure out who really done it, but that’s not all he uncovers in this lovely little mystery. The secrets he didn’t expect to find turn out to be more explosive than the ones he was actually looking for.

Escape Rating A-: This was definitely a case of “right book at the right time”. I was looking for a comfort read to get myself back into the reading and reviewing swing, and discovered through trial and error that there were a whole bunch of genres I just was not in the mood for. A cozy mystery like Out of Circulation turned out to be just right. Especially since we missed our own cats very much while we were away.

I always love Diesel. He is just such a marvelous cat. Also a LOT of cat. But very cat. Not psychic, not human level intelligent, just big and loving and occasionally snarky (in a cat way) and very sweetly, demandingly, cat. I’ve had cats that have had individual bits of Diesel’s purrsonality (although quite not his huge size) but never one that had all these qualities at once. Every time Diesel appears in the story I got a chuckle.

And yes, we all talk to our cats the way that Charlie does and we all think they understand on some level. They’ve trained us well.

Part of the fun of this particular story were the allusions to many classic mystery series. At the costume party where the murder takes place, all of the guests were dressed, not as famous historical figures or in typical Halloween costumes, but in very clever costumes that paid homage to some of my own favorite mystery writers and fictional detectives.

Of course, it’s always just fun and games until the dead body is discovered, and so it proves in Out of Circulation.

The thoughtful part of this story revolved around the other mystery that Charlie looks into. Athena Mississippi is a small Southern town where memories are long and whose founding families are still represented in the current population. Charlie’s dilemma reflected a professional ethical issue that will be understood by any librarian or archivist, and the way that he handled it would serve as a terrific example for anyone in the professional on how to handle a problem like this one – which probably happens more often than we think. Every family has skeletons in the closet if you look back far enough.

And the way that the remaining family members handled the issue once it was discovered? Well that was just classy. It’s no wonder that the author has spun those particular characters off into their own series, because they are wonderful steel magnolias.