Arsenic and Old Books
Cat in the Stacks, Book #6
By Miranda James
Author’s website: www.catinthestacks.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Jeanie
In Athena, Mississippi, librarian Charlie Harris is known for his good nature—and for his Maine coon cat Diesel that he walks on a leash. Charlie returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but taking the plunge into a recent acquisition will have him in over his head…
Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. The books were recently discovered among the personal effects of an ancestor of Mrs. Long’s husband. The mayor would like Charlie to preserve and to substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy—something that could benefit her son, Beck, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate.
Beck’s biggest rival is Jasper Singletary. His Southern roots are as deep as Beck’s, and their families have been bitter enemies since the Civil War. Jasper claims the Long clan has a history of underhanded behavior at the expense of the Singletarys. He’d like to get a look at the diaries in an attempt to expose the Long family’s past sins. Meanwhile, a history professor at the college is also determined to get her hands on the books in a last-ditch bid for tenure. But their interest suddenly turns deadly…
Now Charlie is left with a catalog of questions. The diaries seem worth killing for, and one thing is certain: Charlie will need to be careful, because the more he reads, the closer he could be coming to his final chapter.
How I love being back in Athena, Mississippi visiting Charlie and Diesel! It is one of my favorite places. Charlie is a widowed librarian working part-time at Athena College’s rare book archive. As such, the mayor, Lucinda Wentworth Long, who with her husband Andrew have donated many papers and other rarities to the college library, arrived with four journals of her husband’s ancestor, Rachel Afton Long, written before and during the Civil War. Charlie assessed the first one for whether restoration was needed before adding it into the archive. Lucinda’s husband was preparing to retire from the state senate; their son Beck aspired to his father’s senate seat; he had only one competitor in the race to Election Day, Jasper Singleton.
Charlie suddenly becomes a little too popular! A reporter wants to view the diaries, claiming that information in them will help the man she is secretly engaged to win the election. A professor at the college, Marie Steverton, demanded exclusive viewing rights to them so she could finally publish what would help her get tenure. Since exclusivity was not typically granted and he had made a promise to the reporter for when they would be available, he refused. The Mayor quickly called Charlie, telling of her long-term friendship with Marie and requesting that she get three weeks’ exclusive viewing, after they would be restored if needed. The next day, when Charlie and Diesel arrived at the archive, the four journals had been stolen, and the old lock picked.
There is no end of surprises, however, as life starts to get extremely busy. Lucinda shows up with a fifth journal, the original four suddenly reappeared, and a murder occurred. Charlie and Diesel are on the job, both to find out why and who committed the theft and the murder, and how the two were connected. Even if one of the candidates was involved.
Charlie and Diesel are among my favorite folks; they are genuine and loyal. The two of them exemplify the unique bond between human and feline; Diesel helps him talk through and solve mysteries. Charlie and others in the novel exude Southern charm, including his lady friend Helen Louise. They are transparent on the job and in relationships, very easy to get to know. It is great to see his son and daughter also have a role; they are a very likable family. The peripheral people, including Mayor Lucinda and son Beck, Beck’s opponent Jasper, the reporter, the professor, and Miss Eulalie are defined as much as needed for their part in this mystery. All are exemplified through their actions and conversations.
Some of the more interesting things the author shares, including a unique view of the Civil War, is the Southern culture. It was interesting that Miss Eulalie stated “Where family pride is involved, especially in the South, never underestimate the length someone will go, to protect their name” (pg. 144). The journal demonstrates how serious challenges were for the women on the home front trying to keep everything together when their men were gone. Many do not know if their man is still alive, much less what to do when the Yankees come to loot.
The plot thickened quickly to several layers – at least three or four – mysteries being ongoing, some more critical than others. It was intriguing from beginning to end; I was invited in from the first page and stayed riveted through the end. It was hard to discover who the bad guys/ gals were and for what motives. The tale was beautifully executed, leaving no loose ends.
Of particular delight in this book is the inclusion of a short story in which Charlie tells how he and Diesel met and how Diesel came to adopt Charlie. This is an incredibly satisfying detail missing from previous mysteries. From the beginning, the gorgeous Maine Coon is very vocal, with an opinion about everything. I highly recommend Arsenic and Old Books to anyone from teen to senior who like cozy mysteries, cats, and stories that bring the past to life. This is a series that no serious cozy mystery or cat lover should miss!
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*