A COLLECTION TO DIE FOR
For a murder mystery, even a cozy, this is a delightful entry in the series. It has been four months since the Christmas-time conclusion of the last novel. Charlie’s daughter, Laura, is planning a June wedding. Charlie’s son, Sean, is practically engaged. And Charlie and Helen Louise are still very much in love themselves. Even Charlie’s boarder, Stewart Delacort, is in a relationship serious enough to have him reading more Shakespeare than scientific journals.
With National Library Week only a short time away, Charlie and Theresa Farmer, the public library director, have decided to focus this year’s exhibits around the old juvenile detective series like Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Judy Belton. They also plan to include exhibits on a series featuring Veronica Thane, which rivaled Nancy Drew for some time and was written by a deceased regional Mississippi author. Now what could possibly go wrong when a library chooses to spotlight children’s mystery books?
Well, what goes wrong happens after Theresa Farmer discovers that the author of the Veronica Thane series, Electra Barnes Cartwright, is not deceased. She is quite spry for a centenarian and living only a few miles away. After the library announces on its web site that Mrs. Cartwright will appear during Library Week, rabid collectors of her books descend upon Athena. Fights actually break out among several collectors, in the library no less, and two days later one of the local collectors is dead, strangled at her home office desk. And Charlie’s telephone number is on a pad beneath her hand.
For a serious mystery reader, determining the identity of the murderer in this tale will seem too easy. Quite frankly, you feel you know who the villain is before the woman even dies, even if the book is written strictly from Charlie’s first person POV. But this is not a weakness on the author’s part. There are at least four other highly viable candidates and even the real possibility of a tag-team effort. So the obvious could really just be a well-crafted red herring.
And speaking of melodrama, Miranda James employs a second, and more rarely used, literary device to further the tale – a book within a book. From the opening page, Charlie is reading, in his spare time, the first Veronica Thane novel. We are treated to every word as he reads it, a few sections at a time. For those of us raised on Nancy Drew, the “blast into the past” makes you realize just how dramatic and unrealistic those stories were. Back then, that type of story was exciting, an I-want-to-grow-up-and-be-just-like-her type of thing. But now, along with Charlie, you read the story with a big grin, your eyes rolling back into your head so far you can see your hair follicles, and a realization that the main characters would now be classified as TSTL.
However, the absurdness of those characters and the theatrics of that plot finally trigger a memory in Charlie and the clues begin to fall in place. And for Charlie and Detective Berry, the plan to expose the murderer proves to be dangerous, complicated and ingenious.
After finishing the scene that moves the current investigation forward to its denouement, Charlie stops reading the Veronica Thane story to us – right in the middle, just when it’s getting good. Overly dramatic or not, characters in the TSTL category or not, there’s a villain afoot and a victim to save. Oh, how could Miranda James do that to us, her faithful readers?!
Well, supposedly, she doesn’t. After the murderer is unmasked, her third literary device comes into play. James states in her Afterward that the entire text of the Veronica Thane story can be found on her web site. Unfortunately, that is not true. There is a sidebar link to a page that says “Coming Soon,” but no text of the story exists as I write this review, four months after the publication date of this novel. For that misdirection, I have reduced the book’s rating in my review. The storyline is already a work of fiction; the author’s Afterward should not be.
Cover Art from Goodreads