Sunday, February 05, 2012

File M For Murder - Miranda James

File M For Murder
A Cat In The Stacks Mystery
Miranda James           
Berkley Prime Crime
As the fall semester begins, Charlie Harris has a full house.  In addition to his two renters, Justin (from MURDER PAST DUE) and Stewart (last seen in CLASSIFIED AS MURDER) he’s got his son, Sean, and, the real surprise, his daughter, Laura.  His faithful friend, Maine Coon cat, Diesel, and Stewart’s poodle, Dante, complete the family.  The big surprise in all this is the arrival of Laura.  An actress, she’s been asked to fill in for a professor on maternity leave in the Theater Dept.  Her former boyfriend and current writer-in-residence, Connor Lawton, recommended her for the job.  Working with Connor is never easy.  His bad-boy appearance masks an equally bad-boy demeanor.  Hailed as the playwright of his generation, he seems to think this gives him license to verbally and emotionally abuse anyone, from student actors to the head of the department.
During a workshop for his new play-in-progress, Connor blows up in epic fashion at the student actors.  The problem isn’t the actors; it’s the painfully bad dialogue.  This is why plays get workshopped, but Connor can’t take criticism and lashes out at everyone present, including Laura and Charlie.  Later that afternoon, Laura goes to see Connor and discovers that he’s dead.  Arriving on the scene after Laura’s frantic call, Charlie feels sure the death isn’t natural.  When someone attacks Laura in her office, he’s not only sure Connor was murdered; he’s sure that he needs to find the killer before his daughter becomes another victim.
This is the third in a solidly entertaining series, but new readers will have no problems getting up to speed.  The author does a wonderful job of including characters from previous books, giving them supporting roles, and sketching in the necessary background information.  The location, tiny Athena, Mississippi, is almost a character in itself.  Many times, I’ve complained that the ‘murder’ in the ‘murder mystery’ doesn’t take place until long into the story.  Not this time.  This time I was so content to re-visit Charlie and Diesel and their family that I didn’t even notice. 
The mystery this time is constructed quite nicely.  It takes a group of intelligent people to collect all the necessary information to solve it.  And, since this one hits close to home for Charlie (literally) there's more emotional resonance to the story. Deputy Kanesha Berry is her usual, competent, no-nonsense self; and the growth of her character and the relationship between the deputy and Charlie seems quite organic.  The many scenes with Diesel will delight cat lovers, of course.  (Diesel has his own Facebook page at where those interested can find out just what all those chirps and warbles sound like.)  Overall, this is another clever entry in a winning series of mysteries.
Rating: 7 ½
February 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24618-4 (paperback)


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