This odd, endearing and weirdly tricky book is a meta meditation on the traditional detective story. Playing off of Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library, author Sulari Gentill yanks this classic into the present. In Christie’s Body the corpse of an apparently unknown young woman appears in the library of a private home. In Gentill’s update, four young people are sitting near each other in the Boston Public library. The main character, Freddie (or Winifred), a mystery writer, is working on a new book and she’s observed the others sitting near her, giving them nicknames as she slots them into a possible book. Freud girl, Heroic Chin and Handsome Man have all invaded her imagination, when their real iterations hear a blood-curdling scream.
Denise Swanson remains one of my favorite cozy writers. Now twenty-three books into her Scumble River series (now billed as “Return to Scumble River”), she’s still cooking with gas. The books are packed with humor as well as real world details of main character Skye Dennison’s work as a school psychologist, a job Swanson herself held for many years.
Cozy writers have to strike a tricky balance between addressing an issue but not being too harsh with it. In a bravura first sequence, Skye is attending a meeting with Superintendent of schools Shamus Wraige, who has unceremoniously fired the school security officer because Scumble River is a small town and “It’s not as if anyone here is going to pull a Columbine or a Sandy Hook.”
This was a blast of a read, akin to the kind of great caper novels written in the past by Donald Westlake, and more recently by talented writers like Jeff Cohen and Catriona McPherson. This is a caper novel with a broken heart at the center. While Westlake stuck pretty strictly to the caper element, Cooney brings the reader in emotionally as well.
The story centers on sweet, stoner Freddy, who makes glass beads and pipes for a living, and who has ended up caring for his grandmother who has dementia. Freddy is a regular visitor to his grandmother’s memory care home and knows the staff and patients well. He slips in the back door of the facility and doesn’t sign in, doing this, like everything in his life, just off the grid.
July Book Club will meet in person on Sunday, July 18, 2pm at my home. We’ll also be meeting via zoom on Wednesday, July 21, at 7pm. Please message me if you’d like to attend either iteration and you don’t have the relevant details or zoom link. We’ll be discussing Sarah Stewart Taylor’s wonderful novel, The Mountains Wild.
August book club will meet in person on Sunday, August 22 at 2p.m and via zoom on Wednesday, August 25 at 7pm. We’ll be reading Caroline B. Cooney’s Edgar nominee, Before She Was Helen.
To my mind, historical mysteries are some of the best mysteries being written at the moment. They combine classic elements of detective fiction, unmarred by cell phones or computers, and combine it with fascinating time periods and characters. These wonderful books are now all available to order on our website, along with many other historical mysteries (have a browse!) Kathleen Marple Kalb’s first novel came out this April, a difficult time for a first novel, with no bookstore events or conferences to attend. I am not a fan of the cover art, but I am a huge fan of this charming debut. My review ran in Mystery Scene, and you can read it here. The main character, Ella Shane, is a “trouser diva”, an opera singer who sings men’s roles in 1899. At the time, opera was a travelling proposition, as the Met was new. If you enjoy books by C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber or Dianne Freeman, check this one out.