4 stars out of 5
Much as I love to read about grisly murders and psychological drama, every now and again, my head needs a break and I look for something on the lighter side. When I saw the description of this cozy mystery - the first of a series - it sounded great on several levels. As the title suggests, it's centered around books and a group of rather stuffy women who get together to read and discuss mysteries as part of the Agathas Book Club - and as an avid reader of that genre, it couldn't be more perfect. Adding to the appeal is that the book is set in Oakwood, Ohio - a Dayton suburb quite familiar to me for the first 18 years of my life as I grew up on a farm perhaps 45 minutes away. I didn't hesitate to request an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, and I was elated when that request was approved.
And all things considered, it served all its intended purposes. I enjoyed glimpses of places I've been, books I, too, have read, and the respite from head games as the story played out in a somewhat predictable manner (as cozy mysteries are wont to do). The heroine, Charley Carpenter, is a character with whom I could be friends (well, on most days, at least), and certainly one I'll be willing to read more about as the series continues.
Charlie, it seems, owns an antique clothing store; in the hope of boosting sales, she joins the Agathas Book Club even though she has a tough time relating to most of the other members - the "elite" of Oakwood and their boring, one-upwomanship club lunches. She maintains her sanity through close relationships with best friend Frankie, fashion-conscious hairdresser Dmitri, her ailing father and his caretaker, Lawrence (who has "...biceps the size of first graders...") And of course, there's the requisite love-hate-love relationship with gorgeous and single police detective Marc Trenault.
But then, murder happens - and it's someone connected to the book club members. Not long after, another one bites the dust, and clues lead to passages from book club selections and the suspicion that both dirty deeds were done by the same hands. Fingers begin pointing toward another of the club members, so over Marc's objections, Charlie's valuable insights translate to her acceptance on the investigative team. Finally, she even convinces him to let her use her knowledge and skills as an inside-the-club informant in the hope of ferreting out which is the killer. Of course, that puts Charlie squarely in the crosshairs of someone who will do anything - including kill again - to keep from being identified.
In the end, of course, all's well that ends well, and I'm happy to had the opportunity to read it. That said, though, a few things bothered me a titch. First, enough already with the boy names for girls: Charlie? Frankie? Ronnie? Wilson? Jelly (well, I suppose that one could shake out either way). And how on earth does a person officially arrested for murder (which wouldn't happen without that person being taken into custody) get back home with no mention of help from an attorney, no hearing or no bail?
Ah well, I'll never know. I do know that this is the start of a promising series, and I look forward to the next installment.
The Book Club Murders: The Oakwood Mystery Series by Leslie Nagel (Alibi, September 2016); 271 pp.