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All Cozy Mystery Coverage

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.

Cold comfort is easy to find; it’s much harder to find the winsome warmth one encounters in Mirror Lake, a cozy mystery populated by woodland creatures.

Readers will instantly be taken with ex-cop-turned-caterer Jodie “Nosey” Parker in Murder on the Menu, a delightful start to a new cozy mystery series set in the Cornish countryside.

After serving nearly 20 years on the force with the London Metropolitan Police and undergoing a contentious divorce, Jodie is ready to start fresh. She and her 12-year-old daughter, Daisy, move to Penstowan, the small Cornish village where Jodie grew up. There, she opens her own catering company, and her first client is Tony, a longtime friend and onetime ex-boyfriend who hires her to cater his upcoming wedding. Several uninvited guests show up the night before the service, including Tony’s first wife, Mel, who promptly gets into a fistfight with Cheryl, the bride-to-be. When Cheryl disappears and bodies start to pile up, Jodie takes off her caterer’s coat and dives into the investigation in order to clear Tony’s name. 

Author Fiona Leitch’s excellent writing, witty dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor elevate each scene, and the well-plotted mystery will keep readers guessing until the end. It’s easy to root for the entertaining Jodie, who’s still exceedingly capable as a detective despite having left the force. Detective Chief Inspector Nathan Withers, the lead investigator, is both annoyed and impressed with Jodie, and watching their budding chemistry is a delight. Leitch also ably explores the bittersweet, complicated nature of Jodie’s return to Penstowan: While she’s happy to live closer to her mother, a firecracker with a busy social life and wicked sense of humor, Jodie’s still coming to terms with living in the shadow of her late father, who dedicated his life to protecting the village as chief inspector.

Murder on the Menu will delight cozy mystery fans, especially those who want just a touch of melancholy amid all the crime-solving fun.

Fiona Leitch’s excellent writing, witty dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor elevate each scene in this cozy mystery set in the Cornish countryside.

Mystery fans and dog lovers alike will enjoy Peggy Rothschild’s A Deadly Bone to Pick, the first in a new cozy mystery series featuring former police officer-turned-dog trainer Molly Madison.

Looking for a fresh start after the death of her husband, Molly makes a cross-country move to California. With her loyal golden retriever, Harlow, at her side, Molly hopes to heal and put down roots in the coastal town of Pier Point. On her first day there, she befriends a slobbery Saint Berdoodle (named Noodle) and volunteers to train him after learning that his owner can’t properly care for him. But when her new charge digs up a severed hand on the beach, Molly quickly goes from new kid on the block to murder suspect.

Readers will enjoy Rothschild’s fast-paced and well-plotted mystery, especially its small beach community setting. In Pier Point, the locals keep tabs on their neighbors, and everyone has a secret to hide. The town is filled with memorable characters, including Miguel Vasquez, the handsome detective investigating the murder, and Ava, Molly’s precocious 8-year-old neighbor who’s in need of tips for both training her dog and making friends her own age.

Molly’s lessons to other Pier Point residents and their dogs blend seamlessly into the central mystery, and animal lovers will appreciate seeing the reality of loving and living with pets depicted on the page. Rothschild shows that while it’s easy to love our dogs, they can also be a lot of work: There’s no sleeping in for Molly, not when Harlow needs to be let outside or fed. A Deadly Bone to Pick is a satisfying debut that will leave readers eager for more adventures with Molly and her canine companions.

Mystery fans and dog lovers alike will enjoy Peggy Rothschild’s A Deadly Bone to Pick, the first in a new cozy mystery series featuring former police officer-turned-dog trainer Molly Madison.

The Shadows of Men

Calcutta, 1923: Then, as now, the state of Muslim-Hindu relations evoked an image of a short-fused powder keg, awaiting only the striking of a convenient match. The murder of a prominent Hindu theologian provides said spark, setting the stage for Abir Mukherjee’s fifth novel, The Shadows of Men. Police Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee are tasked with unraveling the circumstances of the homicide before holy war breaks out in the streets and alleyways of West Bengal’s most populous city, Calcutta. Things take a complicated turn almost immediately, as Banerjee finds himself framed for the aforementioned murder and thus removed from the state of play, at least in any official capacity. But he and Wyndham have never been what you’d call sticklers for the rules, and this time will prove to be no exception. Their investigation, at times in tandem but more often in parallel, will carry them to Bombay, which is unfamiliar turf to both of them. There they will discover that there is more afoot than just age-old cultural and religious enmity, and that certain third parties may harbor a keen—albeit covert—interest in fanning the flames of mutual intolerance. The narrative is first-person throughout, switching from Wyndham’s perspective to Banerjee’s in alternating chapters, an unusual and clever approach that keeps readers dead center in the melee, while at the same time poised on the edges of their seats.

All Her Little Secrets

Wanda M. Morris’ debut novel, All Her Little Secrets, is a multilayered, atmospheric thriller with subplot atop subplot. In a 200-odd-word review, I can barely scratch the surface. The main characters are Atlanta corporate attorney Ellice Littlejohn, a Black woman who is the lead counsel for a thriving transport company; her brother Sam, a ne’er-do-well who skates very close to the edge of legality, and sometimes over the edge; her auntie Vera, once a ball of fire, now laid low by advancing episodes of dementia; and CEO Nate Ashe, a Southern gentleman who might be looking out for Ellice’s interests but who also might be a corrupt businessman attuned to the optics of displaying a minority woman in a position of power. Then there is a murder, and another, and it becomes next to impossible for Ellice to determine who is in her corner. Examinations of racism, sexism, ageism and classism (and probably other -isms I have forgotten about) abound, making All Her Little Secrets a very timely read, in addition to being one heck of a debut.

Psycho by the Sea

A handful of pages into Lynne Truss’ hilarious new installment in her Constable Twitten series, Psycho by the Sea, I found myself imagining it as a BBC TV series with an eccentric “Fawlty Towers” sort of vibe, perhaps with a screenplay penned by Graham Greene. The characters are delightfully overblown, the storyline whimsical (well, if a cop killer who boils his victims’ severed heads fits your notion of whimsy).The novel is set in 1957 in the English seaside town of Brighton, which is not the sort of place that jumps to mind as crime central. Still, a number of locals make a good living pushing the boundaries of the law, including Mrs. Groynes, the lady who makes the tea at the Brighton police station. Privy as she is to the daily departmental goings-on, she ensures that the constables will be conveniently far from wherever her crimes are set to take place. When the severed-head-boiling killer escapes from the psychiatric detention facility he has called home for several years, perhaps aided in that getaway by a staff psychotherapist, all manner of ghoulish things begin to take place in the otherwise somnolent resort. While Psycho by the Sea is not the most suspenseful story on offer this month, it is easily the funniest, the quirkiest and the most entertaining read of the bunch. 

★ Silverview

When John le Carré passed away in December 2020, he left a gift behind for his readers: Silverview, one last novel from the master of espionage. The story goes that le Carré began work on the book nearly a decade ago, but it was held for publication as the author “tinkered” with it (a sly nod to his 1974 book Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?). The tinkering paid off. Silverview is one of his best works, an intricate cat-and-mouse tale in which just who is the feline and who is the rodent is up in the air until the final pages. When bookshop owner Julian Lawndsley meets Edward Avon, he is virtually bowled over by the larger-than-life demeanor of the elderly white-haired gentleman. Together they hatch a plan to expand Julian’s bookstore. Meanwhile, British intelligence has launched an investigation into a long-ago incident in Edward’s life, one that suggests he may still be in the spy game. If this is true, it’s anybody’s guess who his employer might be, for it is certainly not the home team. Not that the home team could even remotely be considered the good guys, mind you. But I suppose treason is treason, irrespective of the morality of the players. Perhaps even more world-weary in tone than the le Carré books that preceded it, Silverview will make readers look askance at the sort of things their countries do on the world stage.

The Shadows of Men Calcutta, 1923: Then, as now, the state of Muslim-Hindu relations evoked an image of a short-fused powder keg, awaiting only the striking of a convenient match. The murder of a prominent Hindu theologian provides said spark, setting the stage for Abir Mukherjee’s fifth novel, The Shadows of Men. Police Captain Sam […]

Not one, not two, but all three of the books in this month’s cozy column received starred reviews!

Mango, Mambo, and Murder

Miriam Quiñones-Smith has just relocated from New York City to tony Coral Shores in Miami. A former food anthropologist, she lands a gig teaching Caribbean cooking on a morning show and works to grow a social circle, but at her very first meeting of a women’s club, one of the attendees keels over. Mango, Mambo, and Murder has everything you look for in a cozy mystery but also feels like a breath of fresh air. Author Raquel V. Reyes fills this story with details that make it feel real, despite there being a character named Sunny Weatherman. Cuban American Miriam and her family, friends and co-workers are well-rounded personalities whom readers will be eager to learn more about. Miriam’s attempts to find a killer take her to strip malls filled with questionable folk healers and incredible restaurants serving Cuban American standards like ropa vieja and pollo a la plancha. Reyes incorporates Spanish into characters’ dialogue throughout, adding authenticity, while subtly providing context so that readers who aren’t Spanish speakers won’t miss a beat. Dig into this inviting, suspenseful feast for the senses.

★ The Man Who Died Twice

It’s impossible to single out any one feature that makes The Man Who Died Twice such an absolute treat. The plot is a crackling mystery: Septuagenarian retiree and amateur sleuth Elizabeth gets a coded message from someone in her past asking for help, as he’s stolen a lot of diamonds from some very angry people. When two people are killed, the hunt is on for the killers and the diamonds. English TV presenter and comedian Richard Osman creates real magic with his characters. They are frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious but also entirely real and three-dimensional. There’s also dogged police work, tradecraft most devious, a lot of cocaine and those diamonds. If possible, this sequel is even better than the Osman’s charmer of a debut, The Thursday Murder Club. This series is both a load of fun and an ode to how the power of friendship is important throughout one’s life but especially during the final stretch. Don’t miss it.

★ Seven-Year Witch

Seven-Year Witch finds Josie Way settling into life as a librarian in rural Wilfred, Oregon, and deepening her powers as a witch, thanks to letters left to her by her grandmother. The old mill in town is set to be turned into a lavish retreat center, but rumors that the site is cursed raise local hackles, especially when the disappearance of one of Wilfred’s inhabitants is followed by the discovery of a bloody weapon. Josie’s love interest, FBI agent Sam Wilfred, returns to town, but things between them are complicated by the news that he’s married with a baby. Author Angela M. Sanders uses the eerie atmosphere to great effect and also plays with the assumed charms of a small town. For example, the locals lose some of their warmth when there’s a killer in their midst. Josie’s witchcraft plays into solving the mystery, but the story feels realistic overall. Full of false leads and truly surprising reveals, this terrifically plotted mystery is hard to put down.

Not one, not two, but all three of the books in this month’s cozy column received starred reviews!

Carrie Doyle’s It Takes Two to Mango treats readers to a tropical mystery full of twists and turns.

When high-powered editor Plum Lockhart is suddenly terminated from her job at a luxury travel magazine, she spirals. She has no future employment prospects, her self-worth is at an all-time low and the bitter New York City winters are certainly not helping. When an unexpected job as a villa broker at a resort comes her way, she packs her Prada and flies down to Paraiso, a small fictional island in the Caribbean that I dearly wish I could visit.

Plum is used to the fast-paced city life and harsh deadlines, not Paraiso’s relaxed saunter. With humidity messing with her hair and an office rival messing with her bookings, she becomes desperate to regain control and score a win at work. So she rents her assigned villa, the dingy and dismal Casa Mango, to a bachelor party, despite her boss’s wishes. All seems to be going according to plan, and Plum’s ego is restored—until the best man turns up murdered. Frustrated with the shoddy police work and eager to solve the crime, Plum partners up with the resort’s dashing head of security and takes matters into her own hands. Together they navigate Paraiso’s multitude of mysteries while a possible romance between them blooms.

The paradise of Paraiso is the perfect setting for a cozy mystery, and the resort features an outrageously entertaining cast of colorful characters. In her trusty golf cart, Plum meets uber-wealthy villa renters, social media influencers, yoga die-hards and eccentric staffers. The heart of this story, however, is Plum’s own self-discovery as she transitions from cruel and untethered to confident and kind. But she never loses that spark, that drive, that makes her who she is. It Takes Two to Mango is a fantastic start to a new series, and readers will be eager to return to Paraiso for Plum’s next adventure.

Carrie Doyle’s It Takes Two to Mango treats readers to a tropical mystery full of twists and turns.

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