Privy to the Dead
A Museum Mystery #6
By Sheila Connolly
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
Nell Pratt, president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, has something to smile about thanks to a generous donation from a major Philadelphia developer who’s willing to help update their museum. But renovations have barely begun when a man is struck by a car in front of the building and killed.
The victim is a construction worker who found a curious metal object while excavating an old privy in the museum’s basement. Nell thinks the death is somehow connected to the Society, and her suspicions are confirmed when an antiques expert reveals a link between the objects from the cellar and a fellow staff member’s family.
Now Nell must unearth a mystery with ties to the past and the present. Because when someone is willing to kill over scrap metal, there’s no telling what they’ll do next…(Goodreads)
Nell Pratt is relishing the quiet routine that is presently her life. She and her FBI agent boyfriend James have bought a house together and are settling into a new normal, although they are rattling around in their big Victorian with little furniture, and the Antiquarian Society is busy with preparations for a major remodel. Construction is going according to schedule when the workers find what appears to be a long covered up privy hole in the basement. Carnell Scruggs is the only worker small enough to fit in the pit so he ventures down to clean out the “trash”. Unfortunately, Scruggs perishes that same night after he is hit by a passing car in front of the Society. Is it a coincidence that he was near the society? Nell is concerned about the Society’s reputation (they have been tied to several murders in the past) but also worried that the privy is somehow related to Scruggs’ death. When the detective assigned to the case discovers that Scruggs showed a bartender what appeared to be an antique artifact the night he died, Nell and her staff dig through the Society’s records in an effort to get to the bottom of the privy and a mystery from the past that may connect Scruggs to a turn of the century cover up.
I always enjoy the historical puzzles that are an integral part of the Museum Mysteries, and this was no exception. I did feel that the story was a little slow to get going, but it did become more exciting near the end when the pieces began to fall into place. I can appreciate Marty Terwilliger’s, who is a board member and whose family has been an integral part of the Society since its inception, devotion to her family’s name and reputation, but I did not really understand her secrecy at times since she was a driving force to find out the truth about the escutcheon that Scruggs pocketed and subsequent lap desk and scandal tied to the findings in the privy. I have to admire Ms. Connolly for building a mystery around an antiquated “restroom” without invoking any potty humor.
I did feel that Nell came across a little dingy in her personal life in this installment. I can appreciate that she and James are wading through uncharted relationship waters, but I got the impression that Nell was incapable of planning a meal or feeding herself without James, and I have not had this negative feeling about Nell in prior books. Also, I know being a first time home owner and all it entails can be overwhelming, but these are two mature, professionally successful people who I expected to be more on the ball regarding their personal life. James is not very involved in the mystery this time around, and I missed him. The Society employees continue to provide layers of interest and each brings something special to the investigation.
I liked Privy to the Dead well enough. There are enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested in the outcome of the research and mystery. The Museum Mystery series is unique in the cozy mystery genre providing a rather serious backdrop and characters. There is much more intellectual activity than life threatening action. I recommend this to fans of the series and those who enjoy a “thinking” cozy.