Paula Munier: Home at Night

Mercy & Elvis #5

This is a great Halloween read.  You’d think mystery fiction would be more littered with great Halloween reads, but there really aren’t that many.  Munier also has a theme, as she always does, and the theme of this novel is “home,” the meaning of it and the finding of it. Her series centers on Mercy Carr, a veteran of the Afghan war, as is her dog, Elvis. The story opens with a young Mercy Carr encountering a ghost like figure at an old, abandoned house in town.  The woman who had owned it was a well known poet, and one of her more famous poems is a Halloween verse for children.

The poem is the book’s opening epigraph, and Munier is nothing if not the epigraph queen.  Each one in this novel relates to the concept of home.  This is an aspect of her books that I truly appreciate.  Fast forward to the future, and the newly married Mercy and her husband, Troy (and of course their dogs, Elvis and Susie Bear) are looking for a home as the one they are in has suddenly become too crowded.  Living with them are Helena, a young woman Mercy took in, her baby, and her partner, Brodie.  Mercy’s isolated cabin, built for her and her dog, is full to bursting.

The house they decide on, naturally, is the old haunted house met in the first chapter.  It seems to be an utter wreck, out in the middle of nowhere, but it feels right to Mercy and Troy and they makes arrangements to buy it, despite finding a dead body in the library during their house tour.  The house is as full of secrets as you can imagine, and there are mysteries upon mysteries, including letters or manuscripts the poet may have left behind her.

Mercy and Troy, along with trying to find out who killed the man in their library (not to mention trying to discover who he might be), are also trying to find these hidden gems.  Every other poet and Druid in Vermont seems bent on the same task, and the isolated house is the scene of much more drama before the story is over.

Munier is a fun storyteller.  Her books always read much, much faster than I intended, and this one was no different.  I raced to the finish.  Along the way Mercy takes a bit of a beating, but she’s stubborn and relentless and with Troy and Elvis at her side she doesn’t give up. The books are kind of a yin and yang – cozy, but also action adventure.

The cozy side of the books involves food – cinnamon rolls, lasagna, cheeseburgers.  Everything you shouldn’t eat but can truly enjoy on the page. There are lots of cozy elements: comfortable characters with a sturdy support system of family and friends, a charming small town, and even the dogs.  If Elvis, a Malinois who worked through a war with his former master (and Mercy’s dead boyfriend) isn’t so cozy, Susie Bear, Troy’s newfoundland, is.  She’s furry, friendly, and cheerful, providing comfort to everyone she meets.  The worst thing Susie Bear might do is sit on you.

Not so cozy is the action-adventure side of things, which includes more violence than a usual cozy, as well as a good amount of suspense. The story telling, action, and some of the complex and darker themes are less cozy, which in this novel involve a long family feud, poaching, and general deception.  This book is what I think of as a “dark cozy.”

Whatever slot of the genre they fall into, though, the books are simply a blast.  This one is full of Halloween atmosphere down to a corn maze, a possible ghost sighting, a creepy scarecrow, and flocks of grackles.  An irresistible read, as always. — Robin Agnew