Cute canine sleuths, the glamour of Gilded Age Broadway and a prickly, private librarian—this month's column has something for every kind of cozy reader.
★The Unkindness of Ravens
Greer Hogan left her life in New York City behind after her husband’s murder. Starting over as a librarian in the village of Raven Hill has offered some distance from that trauma—until she finds her best friend dead in the library. Greer is still considered an outsider in the tightknit village, so she leans on her own research skills to find her friend’s killer while coming to grips with uncomfortable truths about her husband’s death. The Unkindness of Ravens pushes the boundaries of cozy mysteries: It’s moody and tense, literary and urbane, and an edgy delight to read. Author M.E. Hilliard is herself a librarian, and she gets the job’s balance of fun and drudgery note-perfect. Yes, there are bake sales and charming patrons, but there are also a lot of repetitive tasks and the occasional creep. Analytical and not overly social, Greer keeps to herself, even shying away from the reader at times, which only serves to heighten the suspense. Nods to Trixie Belden, Kinsey Millhone and Edgar Allan Poe tempt the reader to relax into the novel’s bookish atmosphere, until a fast-paced conclusion that’s truly surprising whips things to a close. The Unkindness of Ravens is an exciting debut, and I’m already eager for another installment.
When private investigator Corey Douglas was still a police officer, he responded to a domestic violence call in which he could do nothing to help the victim, Lisa Yates. Now, years later, Lisa has died in an unsolved shooting, and Corey decides to try and right a past wrong by solving her murder. Animal Instinct, David Rosenfelt’s second K Team novel, builds suspense by shifting points of view between Corey’s team and their extremely dangerous enemies, who are always a step ahead. Lisa’s job at a medical records company makes for a very data-centric thriller, but plenty of muscle is exerted as well, by dogs as well as humans. Rosenfelt has artfully spun off Corey and his K-9 partner, Simon Garfunkel, from his hit Andy Carpenter series, and Andy appears here in more than a mere cameo, which adds to the fun.
Death of a Showman
Death of a Showman finds lady’s maid Jane Prescott on Broadway, chaperoning her rich employer, Louise Tyler, to rehearsals of a show Louise has been persuaded to invest in. Jane’s not thrilled to be there; her passionate dalliance with composer Leo Hirschfeld abruptly ended when he married a chorus girl, but that doesn’t stop him from flirting with every woman he sees. It’s almost a welcome distraction when the show’s tough-guy producer, Sidney Warburton, is murdered. Author Mariah Fredericks has clearly done her research on Gilded Age New York and its colossal theaters, because she creates a real sense of being behind the scenes and behind the curtain. The murder is nearly upstaged by the drama, backbiting and infighting among the cast and crew, but it’s all told with understated elegance.