Friday, May 06, 2011

Classified As Murder - Miranda James

Classified As Murder
A Cat In The Stacks Mystery
Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime


Life should be rather sedate for widower Charlie Harris. He lives in tiny Athena, Mississippi, works part-time as a rare book cataloger for the local college, and volunteers at the library. Diesel, a Maine Coon cat and Charlie’s constant companion, travels with him. During a morning at the library, local eccentric (meaning, odd but wealthy) James Delacorte approaches Charlie and asks him to catalog Mr. Delacorte’s personal collection of rare volumes. It seems that Mr. Delacorte is worried that someone is pilfering the treasures he’s spent a lifetime acquiring.

When Charlie arrives for tea at the Delacorte home, he’s treated to just about as much Southern eccentricity as anyone could stand. The entire extended family lives in the home, and on Mr. Delacorte’s largesse. Since few of them have any independent source of income, the thief could be anyone. But first, Charlie has to determine that volumes are missing. To do that, he must complete an inventory using Mr. Delacorte’s written records. Returning from lunch on the first day, Charlie finds Mr. Delacorte dead at his desk. It might have been a heart attack, but circumstances would argue otherwise.

Adding to the mystery is the arrival of Charlie’s adult son, Sean. He’s fairly vague on the reason or length of his visit, but it’s clear that, after several years of working for a law firm, he’s disenchanted with the prospect. Watching Charlie and Sean come to terms really deepens both of the characters. The issues seem organic and not at all forced. That makes their resolution, such as it is, that much sweeter. Speaking of coming to terms, Charlie is on much better terms with deputy Kanesha Berry than he was in the first book, MURDER PAST DUE. This makes for a nice working relationship and an easier time for both the characters and the reader.

Throughout the book, Charlie mentions Miss Marple and Agatha Christie. The first mention came at a time when I was thinking that if Dame Agatha had written mysteries about quirky Southern families, this would have been the result. It’s a wonderful, classic mystery. Not only for the who-dunnit, but for the why-dunnit. There were several viable suspects, leaving everything up for grabs until the satisfying resolution. Diesel is always present, warbling and chirping to Charlie, sharing his days. This time, he even gets a friend, since Sean brings a dog home with him. Cat lovers will understand that Diesel instantly establishes a pecking order, with him as benevolent ruler. Charlie and Diesel are great characters, and I hope to see much more of them in the near future.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24157-8 (paperback)


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