Four Cozy Mysteries

March 30, 2012 at 9:17 am (cozy mystery, mystery)

My public library got me through the first part of my illness earlier this week – by pure happenstance, I got these four books out a day or two before it started.

Wendy Lyn Watson’s A Parfait Murder (2011) is the third of her “Mystery à la Mode” series (the other two of which the library doesn’t have!).  I was short on emotional resources when I first started reading it, however, so heroine Tallulah Jones’ emotional pyrotechnics were a bit too much and I had to put it aside till I felt better.  Set in Texas, it features the hard-working divorced owner of an ice-cream shop (“Remember the A-la-Mode” – don’t judge, it’s memorable, at least) and her equally hard-working family: cousin, niece, and tough-as-nails grandmother.  And a murder committed on a carnival ride.  The book offers more of an emotional roller-coaster for the characters than a lot of the cozies do, and with its strong characters and multitude of plot twists, I suspect the series will make a nice change of pace for a lot of readers.

Really, the only thing it was missing was a recipe for actually making ice cream.  Ah well.

Next up: another Texas-based book, A Peach of a Murder by Livia J. Washburn (2006), first of an intended Fresh-Baked Mystery” series.   Here, heroine Phyllis Newsom is a retired schoolteacher whose peach cobbler is the last item one of the festival food judges tastes before he keels over, poisoned!  The other two deaths don’t appear to form a pattern … but there is one, and a rather sad one at that.  With a hint of potential romance arriving with a new boarder in Phyllis’s house – another of several retired schoolteachers – and comfortingly competent law enforcement, it looks like a series with solid potential.  (A little further investigation reveals that though this book is new to me, the series has already gone on for several additional books!)

The second “Magical Cats Mystery” by Sofie Kelly is called Sleight of Paw (2011), and it was just as fun as the first one (Curiosity Thrilled the Cat).   It’s possible that I’m more biased toward librarians as heroines than toward ice-cream entrepreneurs or retired schoolteachers (even retired history teachers).  Or perhaps I just like the presence of a little magic in this one – part of the relatively new trend that’s been gently folding urban fantasy elements into cozy mysteries.  Kathleen Paulson, library director in a smallish Minnesota town, is pretty sharp, if a bit handicapped by the fact that telling anyone about her cats’ peculiar abilities would make folks think she was nuts.  (Though I do think she’s a bit too anxious over what people will think about her occasionally carrying her cats around with her.)  I also like her unusual background as a child of theater people.  Anyway, the apparently-accidental death of a retired school principal leads to a lot of anxiety, as multiple well-regarded members of the community seem to be potential suspects, including a close friend of Kathleen’s.  I’ll admit I was pretty sure who the real culprit was, but the author kept it uncertain enough to hold my interest.  Definitely a series I’ll be keeping an eye out for.

Finally, Monica Ferris’ fifteenth “Needlecraft Mystery” is Threadbare (2011), and it seems to me that her basic writing level has definitely kicked up a notch.  I thought this was happening with the last one (Buttons and Bones), but now I’m positive.  There are multiple points of view that are deftly handled, the pacing is excellent, the characters seem indefinably more definite, and the range of topics explored is firmly branching out from “just” needlework to parts of the world around – in this case, the lives and options of homeless women, two of whom are the victims.  Betsy Devonshire, the small-town Minnesota needlework shop owner and amateur sleuth of this series, works hard to figure things out and is eventually able to apply logic and evidence to the problem, sorting out who the culprit is in a believable fashion.  But I’m most pleased about the author’s step up in skill level – it’s a great pleasure to see an already-accomplished person get even better.

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