Literary references and messages from the stars add wit and wisdom to three cozy mystery debuts, wherein leading ladies go toe-to-toe with the odd, the cultish and the rapacious.
TO THE COAST
Katherine Bolger Hyde puts a new spin on classic crime with Arsenic with Austen, the first in a new series that mixes old-fashioned romance and danger with a dose of very contemporary greed. Emily Cavanaugh’s aunt has left her a fortune, which includes much of the land in Stony Beach, Oregon. When Emily returns to the quiet coastal town where she spent many childhood summers, she finds the villagers divided by their ideas for the town’s future. The boorish mayor, a greedy real estate developer and Emily’s sort-of cousin try to convince her to develop the town with a luxury resort and fancy boutiques. Soon a murder hits close to Emily’s doorstep, and along with Luke, her former childhood love, she sets out to discover the killer’s identity, even calling into question whether Aunt Beatrice may have been “helped” into her grave. Puzzler fans and literary junkies alike will enjoy the fun as passages from Jane Austen’s novels bolster and embellish Emily’s investigations.
WHAT THE STARS SAY
In Connie di Marco’s The Madness of Mercury, astrologer Julia Bonatti knows that Mercury retrograde is a planetary aspect with plenty of dangers. As author of the local newspaper’s horoscope column, Julia has been targeted as a witch by cult leader Reverend Roy and his Prophet’s Tabernacle, who are not averse to threats or vandalism. To make it worse, someone has passed the word to law enforcement to lay off the so-called prophet’s case. Julia seeks safety by moving in with her friend Dorothy and helping to care for Dorothy’s elderly aunts, but trouble mounts when Aunt Eunice runs off to join up with the volatile Reverend. Danger figures in the stars for Julia, along with mixed astrological energies, some wolves in sheep’s clothing and an amiable stranger with a down-under accent.
In Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli’s series debut, A Most Curious Murder, characters and scenes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland take on a zany, modern-day aspect. In the small, peaceful town of Bear Falls, Michigan, the Little Library—its only library—is vandalized and destroyed. The demise of the small structure, lovingly set in place by Jenny Weston’s mother, causes dismay among the townsfolk, and Jenny turns sleuth to discover the perpetrator. She’s aided, like it or not, by her next-door neighbor Zoe, a little person with a big penchant for quoting children’s literature. Zoe becomes a person of interest when a murder takes place in her garden—of the very person suspected of vandalizing the library. Lewis Carroll is practically another character in this offbeat, talky tale. There’s even a touch of romance—for Jenny, he’s the “kind of friend a woman needed at times like these.”
This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.
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