Monday, April 7, 2014

Out of Circulation & Silence of the Library by Miranda James

Reviewed by Jeanne 

The “Cat in the Stacks” mystery series by Miranda James is set in Athena, Mississippi, where widower Charlie lives with a part time housekeeper and some assorted lodgers. He works part time as an archivist at the local university and volunteers at the public library. Charlie has two adult children and a budding romance with Helen Louise who runs a café featuring French pastries. He also has an unusually large Maine Coon cat named Diesel who accompanies him everywhere.

In Out of Circulation, Charlie is on the library’s fund raising committee along with the Ducote sisters, two elderly ladies who preside over much of town society.  Also on the committee is Vera Cassity, an abrasive outsider with more money than grace or sense, and the knack of infuriating people.  When Vera turns up dead at the costumed gala, the suspects are many and include Charlie’s housekeeper, Azalea. The Ducotes are some of James’ best characters, feisty but well-bred ladies who are going to have a mystery of their own later in the year.  I like the way that the author used the gala to lightly explore character and to give a clue to the solution.

Silence of the Library, the latest book in the series, has the public library setting up a display devoted to teen sleuths, including Veronica Thane whose short lived series was overshadowed by Nancy Drew and company.  Surprisingly, the author is still alive and lives nearby.  She’s also willing to make an appearance in conjunction with the display. Suddenly fans and collectors are showing up, all anxious to meet the elderly woman or at least make some cash by having her autograph books. When someone turns up dead, Charlie feels he needs to try to figure out the mystery before anything else goes wrong.   For me, part of the fun of this one was reading about the teen sleuths of yesteryear, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, and others.  James even wrote some chapters for Victoria’s adventures in the style of the old mystery series. I especially appreciated the mentions of the lesser known series, which brought back fond memories.

Overall, this is a gentle cozy series, given to chaste romance and little cursing.  Charlie is good- natured, mild, and calm, while Diesel chirps and purrs. There’s some Southern atmosphere and usually some literary references for fun. I appreciate the series’ overriding theme of tolerance: for characters who are different, or for allowing people to live their own lives.  For example, Charlie struggles mightily not to interfere with his children’s lives.  He knows what he thinks they should do, but is careful to let them make their own decisions. Occasionally, there’s some repetition—everyone who meets Diesel for the first time wants to know what kind of cat he is and how much he weighs, which is natural, but when he meets three new people in short order it gets a bit old. 

Incidentally, when James decided to write the series, a deliberate decision was made to have a male protagonist instead of the more usual female cozy sleuth. On the other hand, tradition was upheld with a female author.  “Miranda James” is the nom de plume of Dean James. Perhaps it was felt that a male author and male protagonist wouldn’t be cozy enough!

No comments:

Post a Comment