As the calendar year draws to an end I’m always a bit reluctant to start books that are likely to be long and/or overly grim reads which, for a crime fiction fan, reduces the potential reading pile somewhat. So this year I decided to tackle a couple of cosy novels which both happen to also be eligible for my Reading USA Fiction challenge. This trip, which is taking much longer than I imagined, requires me to read a book by a new (to me) author set in each state of the US.
The first stop was in the real state of Connecticut via a fictional town called Briar Creek. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER by Jenn McKinlay is the seventh instalment of series featuring Lindsay Norris, a librarian heroine, so it is quite fitting that I literally stumbled on it in my own local library last week (it had fallen from the new books shelving). Lindsay’s library is holding its first overdue book amnesty, meaning that the town’s residents can return all their overdue books without incurring any fines or the wrath of library staff. One of the returned books is a copy of The Catcher in the Rye that was checked out twenty years earlier by a local teacher who was killed later that same day. Her murder has never been solved and Lindsay becomes somewhat obsessed with unmasking the teacher’s murderer.
The story here is a good one, following the modern cosy mystery formula fairly closely but having a bit of fun with it along the way. As always you have to be prepared to suspend disbelief with regards to a random citizen being so closely involved in a police investigation, especially as Lindsay doesn’t have a close relationship with anyone from law enforcement, but McKinlay makes that fairly easy to do. Lindsay is depicted as naturally inquisitive and there are elements of the case that she is not able to uncover without direct intervention from the authorities. There’s a nice cast of supporting characters, including a love interest with whom Lindsay obviously has a history, and the book offers a good mix of sleuthing and romance. Although I’ve not read any of the series’ earlier instalments I did not feel at a disadvantage which is something of a rarity, especially for cosy series. I gleaned enough about the characters’ past histories to make sense of current events but not so much that reading earlier books in the series would now be boring. About the only negative thing I can dredge up is that the book didn’t scream Connecticut in any particular way which somewhat defeats the point of this reading challenge but the small town setting is nicely drawn. I would happily read more of this series.
My other stop for the challenge was in Colorado with Lynn Cahoon’s A STORY TO KILL. It’s the first book in a series to feature Cat Latimer who has inherited her ex-husband’s large house in her old home town. A writer herself, Cat is hosting the first week-long retreat for fellow writers which she hopes to become a monthly supplement to her writing income. One of the small group is murdered during the retreat and fellow guests as well as some of the college town’s long term residents form the suspect pool.
This book followed the cosy formula a bit more stringently and, for me, not quite as successfully. Mainly this is due to everyone in the book being somewhat more obsessed with romance than I like but obviously this is very much a personal preference kind of thing. The main story did engage me, especially the way Cahoon worked through various suspects and provided an excellent red herring thread about a possible earlier murder that may have been connected to the current crime. I wasn’t all that excited by the thread offering ‘something mysterious’ about Cat’s dead spouse’s past but it didn’t occupy a lot of the book. Once again the setting didn’t offer all that much that spoke particularly of Colorado but the college town location was depicted with authenticity. I wouldn’t actively seek out more of this series, mainly due to the romance-heavy plot.
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These are books 20 and 21 I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge in which I’m aiming to read a total of 51 books, one set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.