Firmly back in cozy territory this week, in the little town of Cranberry Cove on Lake Michigan. Our heroine Monica Albertson bakes cakes and cookies with the cranberries grown on her half-brother’s farm. The town is full of neighbourly people, except the one who murdered the mayor at a winter festival designed to bring in the tourists (epic fail). Everything’s cute and wholesome, with added recipes and interesting snippets on cranberry-farming. Can’t have too many cranberries.
It’s easy to mock, but I enjoyed this. One or two little niggles, such as the cat changing colour part way through the book (tabby on p.76), then back again – it’s black and white on the cover, so why not stick with that? Other than that, it’s a cheerful read – even ex-wives of the same husband behave nicely to each other. “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”, Jane Austen once said. Ms Cochran is dwelling on cranberries, and I’m happy to go along for the ride.
Maine again, but a more brutal take on the state. Boar Island is Nevada Barr’s latest, 2016, offering. Heath (female despite the name) Jarrod is in a wheelchair, so feels particularly helpless when her adopted daughter is the victim of school cyber-bullying. She arranges to go to her old friend, Anna Pigeon, who has taken a ranger job at Boar Island in a remote part of Maine. However, the bullying becomes stalking when the threatening messages continue, and it becomes clear they are being watched.
Anna is trying to clear up the murder of a local man, with a history of domestic violence, which ultimately will put her in extreme danger. The main feature of this book is the high level of violence against women and as such I found it uncomfortable reading. It’s entirely realistic – there’s little that you wouldn’t find in the pages of a newspaper – but the sense of helplessness and anger of the victims comes across very clearly. Barr is a skilful writer – I wouldn’t be left feeling Heath’s anger over her daughter’s oppressor if she wasn’t – but not a comfortable one. Not in a hurry to read another one.
I’ve had a week off for holidays, which has taken me to the Northumberland coast. Not wanting to re-read Anne Cleeves’ Vera novels, I’ve gone further afield, to Maine, for my holiday reading. I tracked down one of the Agatha Award finalists, “Fogged Inn”, by Barbara Ross. It’s the fourth in the Maine Clambake series published by Kensington, and something of a guilty pleasure. The mass-market American cozy isn’t widely available in the UK, but I have a now-not-very-secret liking for the cheerful covers and a sense that this is pulp fiction for our age. The more shocking stories are mainstream, and the professionally written but produced to a rapid schedule cozy mysteries are now somehow less worthy.
If there’s one thing that’s likely to make me a read a ton of these, it’s the thought that I’m not supposed to… “Fogged Inn” is set in the small Maine town of Busman’s Harbour, and Julia Snowden goes downstairs one morning to discover that someone has stashed a corpse in the catering refrigerator at the restaurant where she works. Needless to say, the kitchen is declared a crime scene and closed for business.
The corpse is a stranger, but in a small closely-knit town, it’s only a matter of time before someone will work out who he is, and what his links to Busman’s Harbour are. Julia’s an energetic sleuth, and this mystery is full of regular people trying to make a living in the off-season of a small tourist town. An enjoyable setting, with a hardworking heroine, and recipes too. Mug of cocoa and tartan rug time.