Vera Vixen, ace reporter for the Shady Hollow Herald, is a very busy bee. Well, busy, yes, but a fox rather than a bee. As in the previous two volumes in author duo Juneau Black’s Shady Hollow Mystery series, Mirror Lake follows Vera as she juggles work, love and crime-solving in her beloved Shady Hollow, which is populated solely by animals.
Although it is technically her day off (try telling that to her boss, B.W. Stone, a skunk in both fact and temperament), Vera’s delight in the annual October Harvest Festival is somewhat tempered as the day progresses. She learns that her burly bear boyfriend, Deputy Orville Braun, is throwing his cap in the ring for chief of the Shady Hill Police. With claws secretly crossed for his triumph, she determines to remain neutral in reporting on the heated campaign.
Vera’s raven friend, Lenore Lee, owner of the aptly named bookstore Nevermore, also needs support. Lenore is all a-flutter over the approaching book-signing event with Bradley Marvel, a bestselling author of thrillers who thinks rather too highly of himself. In his attempt to charm the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Vera, he proves to be a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
But these intrigues pale in comparison to the possible murder of Edward Springfield, a rat beloved by his eccentric wife, Dorothy. “Possible” because, well, Edward himself (or someone who looks exactly like him?) is standing beside Dorothy as she announces his murder! The most likely suspect is Edward’s older brother, Thomas. But he’s dead, too! Or is he? And whose headless body lies in the deep dark woods? All of Vera’s sly sleuthing skills are put to the test as she tries to solve a seemingly unsolvable case.
Mirror Lake opens with the authors’ plea for us to suspend our disbelief as we enter the realm of Shady Hollow. (Would all these animals be found in the same habitat in real life? How do you square carnivores and herbivores living in harmony?) It’s not hard to do: The anthropomorphizing of the cast is so unobtrusive that this reader often forgot the nonhuman nature of the characters. The occasional reminders of their animal nature add charm and humor to this pleasant tail—sorry, tale.
While some readers might roll their eyes at the simplicity of the plot, others will be chuffed as they attempt to outfox the wily Vera and solve the puzzle before she does. Mirror Lake doesn’t offer much emotional or intellectual complexity, but it does offer the pleasures associated with a cozy, close-knit community. Who wouldn’t want a cuppa at the coffee shop owned by Joe, the amiable moose? Who could resist the fine fare offered by panda master chef Sun Li? What could be cozier than a B&B run by the chipmunks Geoffrey and Ben?
Cold comfort is easy to find in our world these days. It’s much harder to find the humor and winsome warmth of the Shady Hollow mysteries.