Reviewed by Jeanne
Miss Felicity Prim enjoys her job working for dear Doctor Poe and enjoys life in New York City right up until the day she is mugged. She decides that the proper thing to do, after self-defense courses, is to move to a smaller town and embark on a new profession. She has one in mind: Criminal Outsmarter. She’s read any number of detective stories and is fully knowledgeable of the expected accouterments: faithful animal companion, steady sidekick who can serve as comic relief, local constables who are pleased at having a civilian helper, etc.
She finds a charming little house in Greenfield, Connecticut which should be the perfect setting for her new profession. She plans to start out small, with a missing person or perhaps a lost object and work her way up to more advanced crime solving, but her plans have to be changed when she discovers a dead body in a hidden basement of her new home.
The Outsmarting of Criminals by Steven Rigolosi is a delightful book which pokes gentle fun at the cozy genre without ever becoming too precious or without putting down the genre or its readers. Greenfield is populated by a number of characters, not the least of which is Miss Prim herself—a fact of which she remains blissfully unaware. There’s the bookseller who arranges her books by categories such as “Books by Authors Who Phone It In” or “Books Nobody Ever Reads” and the monosyllabic town cook, Maude. Maude is, of course, a man. Miss Prim’s sister, Celia, is considered the femme fatale of the family, and is currently adding to her charm by learning indexing—although she thinks perhaps that indexing is more of an inspired art than a science. However, she is certain that the ability to index is a most desirable attribute to a mate. She has a long list of conquests, and believes Maude has joined the list. Other characters defy simple descriptions. They just have to be experienced.
For me, much of the fun was in how devoted Miss Prim is to the cozy conventions. She knows exactly how things usually turn out. For example, at one point she hears a strange noise and night and has to decide whether or not to investigate. On the one hand, she does feel the need to know what caused the noise; but she has no desire to be one of those none too bright heroines who ends up running from danger while clad only in a nightgown.
Add Doctor Poe’s unexpected declaration of undying devotion, a family mystery discovered in dear Papa’s journals, a dog being taught reverse Pavlovian principle, and you have a very funny, very witty, cozy mystery. I admit to laughing out loud at several points. Rigolosi sends up the genre but does so with deep appreciation, not ridicule. This is the start of a series and I for one will be in line to read the next installment.