Perhaps one of my favorite forms of mystery novels is the cozy. You know what I mean, a nice little murder or two, some interesting characters, the chance to solve the puzzle along with the amateur sleuth. These are the books I read when I don’t want to stress too much or don’t want to be waking up in the middle of the night with a burning desire to find out what happens next. Sure, I like some heart-pounding suspense or some psychological tension, even some physical peril in my reading from time to time; just not on a constant basis. So, when I want to relax, a cozy is often the perfect choice.
Often, these books are part of a series and if I have the luxury I will start with the first one and read them in order. In my opinion, the best series don’t require you to read them in order, there aren’t any “cliff-hangers” from one book to the next, but usually the secondary characters and their relationships build from one book to the next. Occasionally a character’s importance will grow from secondary to primary, and then I like to be there to watch that relationship develop.
It doesn’t matter to me if these are period pieces, featuring the Roaring 20’s or the Post WWII era, the ’70’s. etc.; or modern day books. I’m basically an equal opportunity cozy reader. Usually I’ll turn to these when there are lots of demands on my time in real life, and I’m looking for some relief or I’ve just read a heart-pounding book with lots of suspense and feel the need to take a step back for a minute or two.
That’s what happened when I read Against the Claw by Shari Randall. I had finished a rather intense book I’ll be reviewing later, and I wanted to slip into something more comfortable, so to speak. Kind of like putting on a pair of sweats and settling down to relax after a full day of demands and expectations being met. It was the perfect choice, combining a good mystery with interesting characters in a location that was both a little familiar and a little intriguing. Here’s my review:
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced digital copy of Against the Claw by Shari Randall. This is the second in a series which takes place in Maine with a backdrop of a local lobster shack featuring award winning lobster rolls served up by a delightfully eccentric senior citizen and her crew. The protagonist is Allie, short for Allegra, a classical ballerina recovering from a broken ankle. It was not necessary to have read the first book in the series to understand the characters, and this book is a complete mystery in itself. I enjoyed this book so much I will probably go back and read the first book in the series as well as future installments as they are published.
Allie has returned to her hometown of Mystic Bay, Maine to help her Aunt Gully run the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack while she recovers from a fall in the Boston home she shares with several other dancers. In this book, her ankle has improved enough for her to take a guest role in a local theater production as well as helping her aunt prepare for a new venture of catering for a local celebrity. Meanwhile, in her daily activities she goes out on a lobster boat with one of Aunt Gully’s friends and when they pull up the last lobster pot of the morning, they discover the body of a young woman whose bracelet has caught on the pot.
Throughout the book, Allie works to identify the young woman while at the same time worrying about her sister’s renewed attachment to the local bad boy and working the catering event. As one might expect, these different threads eventually intersect in an altogether satisfying conclusion. The characters introduced along the way are distinctly drawn, with those who are sympathetic often being people you would like to meet and get to know, and those who are less likable evoking the opposite feelings.
The clues to the murder are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, although not so obvious as to be like flashing neon signs. While I did correctly determine the “who” early in the book, I did not determine the “why” until much later. This resulted in a satisfying end to the mystery as well as a nice increase in pace toward the end that pulled me through to the final conclusion. There was a final chapter that read more like an epilogue and seemed to be a bit abrupt in terms of tying up a few loose ends but this did not affect the mystery’s resolution.
The only frustration for me was the relationship between Allie and her older sister Lorel, short for Lorelai. Allie spends much of her time trying to save Lorel from heartbreak while Lorel returns the favor by being manipulative in terms of work which lead to Allie finding the body as well as some unexpected requirements for the catering job. I found myself wishing that at some point Allie would give Lorel a swift kick instead of being so accepting her treatment and coming back for more.
I found this a delightful cozy mystery that is both smart and entertaining, worthy of four and a half stars and rounded up to five. If you are looking for a new cozy writer, or new cozy series, this is one to try.
All in all, I think this was a good choice for me and hope, if you are looking for a good cozy series, this may be worthy of your attention as well. Let me know what you think and, as always, Happy Reading.