Clause of Death
Booktown Mystery #16
By Lorna Barrett
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Bookstore owner Tricia Miles tries to open a new chapter in life, but murder mars the pages in the latest entry to Lorna Barrett’s New York Times bestselling Booktown series.
Tricia Miles and her sister, Angelica, are the co-presidents of the Stoneham Chamber of Commerce. Things are changing in the booktown, and some merchants would say not for the better. They grumble that too many non-book-related stores are moving into the village, taking up the most visible storefronts on Main Street, diluting the “Booktown” moniker. Of course, the members with other businesses, like the latest, The Bee’s Knees, are fine with other businesses moving in. No matter what side of the argument they’re on, all the business owners agree on one thing: Tricia and Angelica are to blame.
Still, it’s a pretty typical day in the life of a small-town Chamber of Commerce until one of the disgruntled bookstore owners is killed–Eli Meier from The Inner Light Bookstore, the most vocal of the Chamber complainers. He sold religious and other spiritual books, but also stocked books on wild conspiracy theories and sold incense, crystals, etc. Eli had never been a member of the Chamber until Angelica recently convinced him to join. He hit on her and she, having good taste, turned him down. He hounded (but not stalked) her, and some might think that was a motive for murder.
Stoneham’s new police chief is an old friend of Tricia’s, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to go easy on her sister. One might even say that he’s going to throw the book at her. (from Goodreads)
Booktown is a place where I would love to shop regularly. I couldn’t imagine being a tourist or resident in a town primarily built around books, much less living there and running a store. Tricia is the owner of Haven’t Got a Clue. Her specialty is used and vintage mysteries plus children’s books. Pixie, her assistant manager, gets many of their books from the estate sales she enjoys. This time we get to learn a great deal about Pixie, and I genuinely like her.
One would think the only challenge of being an officer of the Chamber of Commerce would be a few hours of extra work. Tricia and Angelica, sisters and close friends, accepted being co-presidents when considering the potential benefits to fellow business owners in “Booktown”, Stoneham, New Hampshire. At the last meeting, Eli, one of the booksellers, demanded to know what Angelica and Tricia would do to get more booksellers to come here and how they would keep more non-booksellers from opening on Main Street. Eli had once been a more congenial bookseller, stocking mostly a variety of spiritual books and items. Now he is a paranoid, unpleasant man who has a large stock of conspiracy theory materials.
Eli was not well-liked. Since the last meeting, he texted Tricia many times a day when she stopped taking his phone calls. He found her at lunch with Tricia after she turned him down and disturbed everyone with his anger and accusations. The next morning, he was found dead behind the coffee shop. Among the suspects are Chamber co-president Angelica, since most of the town heard about his harassment of her at lunch within an hour of it occurring the day before due to the small town, high-speed rumor mill.
There is a new police chief in town, Ian, who began literally minutes before the coffee shop owner called out to Tricia for help with the body she just found. Tricia and Ian met a couple years earlier when she and several Chamber members were on a cruise where he had been the head of security. They spoke briefly a couple days ago when she learned he is in town to visit his cousin.
The people of Stoneham are three-dimensionally defined. I enjoy seeing how close Tricia and Angelica are. No matter what goes on in their lives, the sisters have each other’s backs. Challenges between Tricia and Angelica and their mother are discussed realistically. Pixie is the kind of woman I appreciate, one who has been through a lot and became a better person on the other side. Something about Ian doesn’t ring true. Is he a good cop? Probably. But some statements he made to Tricia conflicted with others.
The day-to-day situations people face are sometimes prettied up in the novels we read. The author showed some realistic situations, such as a problem Mr. Everett was dealing with but was too embarrassed about to ask for help. It demonstrated how communication, even when embarrassing, can solve many situations and bring people closer together.
The mystery was complex and very well written with twists and turns and no shortage of suspects. One complication that opened the possibility of more suspects is the secret life Eli was discovered to have in his younger days. Edward, a young homeless man, started hanging around Tricia’s shop, and it appeared he was stalking Pixie. Edward also came to them asking for suggestions as he thought he heard two men in a disagreement at the park the night Eli was killed. There were a couple excellent red herrings, one appearing almost too obvious. The real killer was somewhat of a surprise as I had considered the person on and off throughout despite having no solid motive. The resolution works well, and there are no outstanding loose ends. I highly recommend this novel and series, especially to those who love cozy mysteries with bookstore settings.