Many novels conclude with the wedding of characters we care about, but Crimes and Covers, the fifth book in Amanda Flower’s Magical Bookshop Mystery series, begins with one: the Christmastime union of Violet Waverly, the charming owner of Charming Books in the charming village of Cascade Springs in upstate New York, to the drop-dead gorgeous police chief, David Rainwater.
Among the guests are Violet’s energetic Grandma Daisy, the village mayor and former “caretaker” of the magic-infused bookshop; Violet’s warmhearted friend Sadie; and, to the bride’s astonishment, her elusive dad, Fenimore. But alas, the newlyweds don’t get to make merry post-ceremony because murder most rude pushes all else aside.
Blame Henry David Thoreau. As in previous volumes in this series, a literary classic lies at the mystery’s center. The murder victim is a strange woman who tried to sell Violet a signed first edition of Walden. Violet is an English professor, Thoreau scholar and bookseller, so she was able to discern that the book actually belonged to someone else, Imogene “Thoreau,” whose life is devoted to establishing her blood relationship to the author. Would Imogene spill blood to prove her claim?
Violet puts her honeymoon on hold and dives into a search for answers, some of which come from “the essence,” the magic that oozes from the ancient birch towering in the middle of the bookshop. Along with ensuring that the right books land in just the right hands (Violet’s customers are always so impressed with her recommendations!), the essence conveys clues to help Violet in her amateur sleuthing. (The bookshop’s star tenants, Faulkner the sharp-tongued crow and Emerson the tuxedo cat, also help.) Copies of Walden periodically float through the air, opening to pages that offer transcendental words of wisdom.
Crimes and Covers hits the right cozy notes: an appealing setting (with snow to boot!), a close community and a credible yet unchallenging plot that includes romance and deaths that break few hearts. Although not all the characters are fully drawn, threads occasionally dangle in ways that don’t feel intentional, and moments of tension or heart-stopping thrills are few, this is a satisfying read, providing hours of quiet pleasure rather than the “quiet desperation” Thoreau speaks of. The whimsical touches of bookshop magic are skillfully balanced by plot lines with more gravitas, like the publish-or-perish element in Violet’s academic community and the challenges of relationships, particularly between parents and children. Most importantly, Violet herself is a winning character and narrator: warm, witty, principled and smart, someone you’d enjoy meeting again. So if the tall birch in my backyard, stubbornly short on essence, were to toss another Magical Bookshop Mystery my way, I would be, well—charmed.