3 stars out of 5
The checklist I use when I'm composing a book review includes how reluctant I am to shut down my Kindle when other duties call - and on the other end, how eager I am to start reading it again. On that score, this one falls a bit short. It's certainly not a bad story, but I just couldn't work up much enthusiasm for it.
Honestly, I'm not sure why. Admittedly I'll never be a huge fan of "cozy" mysteries, but I do enjoy them now and again. I love books and bookstores (one of my favorite series is Lawrence Block's The Burgler Who, with Barnegat Books owner Bernie Rhodenbarr), and this book focuses on the four new owners of Yon Bonnie Books. The setting is the smallish Scotland community of Inversgail, a country of interest to me thanks to a wonderful daughter-in-law who was born and raised in the United Kingdom. There are even wee touches of humor here and there and it's the first of a series, all coming together to make the book a seemingly ideal choice for me - hence my quick acceptance of an advance copy (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Janet Marsh is one of the four bookstore owners who has returned from Illinois to Scotland, where she lived with her now ex-husband (a.k.a. The Rat) until about five years ago. She starts off in something of a confused state when she learns her former house won't be ready to move into as planned. Then, she learns it'll be even longer because it's been vandalized for the second time. As if that weren't enough, there's still another delay when the body of local advice columnist (a.k.a. "Agony Aunt") Una Graham (a.k.a. "Ug") is found in the shed behind Janet's house - the shed The Rat built that Janet always hated anyway.
The other owners include Janet's 38-year-old daughter Tallie (short for Natalie), a lawyer back in the states, Janet's old friend Christine Robertson and journalist Summer Jacobs, Tallie's former college roommate. They begin the transition to full-time owners with the help of former owners Kenneth and Pamela Lawrie as well as pursue plans to create a tea room and small bed-and-breakfast in the space next to the bookstore. Janet learns that the neighbor next door to her not-yet-ready-to-move-in house is an illusive but well-known author, and the bookstore itself becomes a haven for a mysterious old woman who sits in the shop for hours tending to her knitting and not once uttering a word. Meanwhile, there's an upcoming annual Inversgail Literature Festival, and two of the bookstore owners take on even more work by agreeing to serve as judges for what seemed to me to be an astounding number of entries given the size of the community.
Whew! Wound in and around all this is the four women's unflagging determination to find the murderer; in between all their other activities they keep notes on their investigation in the Cloud and bug the heck out of the local police detective (himself a curious and not particularly likable person, BTW).
All in good fun, right? It should be, but to me, not so much. There are a few too many characters for me to keep straight, a few too many Gaelic words and phrases that kept me a bit confused, and the banter among the four store owners never really clicked in my [non-Scottish] brain. By about the three-quarter mark, I really didn't care who the culprit was (but that said, yes, it was a surprise, and that's a plus). All things considered, I'm sure this book will have appeal to many readers, and there's plenty of potential for the series as a whole. But wheesht - it didn't quite do it for me.
Plaid and Plagiarism: The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series Book 1 by Molly MacRae (Pegasus Books, December 2016); 336 pp.