Today I’ll be writing about another Cozy mystery series that has had a number of recommendations from readers, the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery Series by Ali Brandon, and specifically the first book, Double Booked for Death.
Former Dallas resident Darla Pettistone has recently moved from Texas to New York City to take over her deceased great-aunt’s bookstore. As in many Cozies, this business was inherited with a collection of eccentric employees and residents, including live-in security Jake, a retired female cop, Professor James St. James (and the name there really says it all), nervous middle aged college student Lizzie, and mean-tempered, surprisingly intelligent black cat Hamlet. Darla’s been setting in well for about six months when the story begins, but the store is always on the verge of falling out of the black and into debt, so she’s definitely looking forward to an upcoming book signing with a big-name supernatural romance writer, Valerie Baylor, with a mixture of trepidation and hope.
Well, it doesn’t take much to guess that Valerie Baylor’s visit will end in disaster rather than financial success, as the author dies unexpectedly during the signing. The death is quickly ruled a probable accident – she had apparently stepped into traffic while taking a brief smoke break.
Still, there were an awful lot of very good suspects, considering it was supposedly an accident. Valerie’s own employees seemed to dislike her, there was a lone protester who claimed Valerie had stolen her story, and a band of religious fundamentalists believing that her works were evil had sent a semi-threatening letter to Darla. Even one of Darla’s own employees felt insulted when Valerie failed to recognize her from a class that the two had attended together years before. So, when Hamlet turns up unexpected evidence that there might have been more to the case than first seemed evident, Darla feels obliged to investigate herself.
In many ways, Double Booked for Death feels like a classic example of a modern Cozy. With its cast of quirky characters and a sleuth just entering early middle age set out to put an unfulfilling career and an unreliable spouse behind her, Darla’s cozy little independent bookshop is certainly setting worthy of its quirky characters. The addition of a hunky detective and a semi-magical cat help finish the picture. Still, there are enough unusual elements present that the formula doesn’t quite enter into cliche territory yet remains comfortable and familiar. Taking place in New York City helps make the mystery feel a bit more metropolitan than many Cozies, and the fact that Darla has already been in place for long enough to establish herself means that the cast only needs to be introduced to the reader, not the sleuth, while still being fundamentally an outsider in a relatively insular community.
The book is also very well written, so the act of actually reading it is very easy – an unsurprising fact, considering Brandon has a degree in journalism. If I did have to express a complaint, however small, it is that at over 300 pages, it could be a slight bit “tighter” – and even that is apparently at least a bit addressed in the sequels, as each is about 30-40 pages shorter than Double Booked for Death.
Ali Brandon also wrote the Leonardo da Vinci Mystery Series as Diane A. S. Stuckart, so if you’re a fan of Ali Brandon, be sure to check it out as well!
PS: Unfortunately I’ve heard that this series has likely ended after six books, but the good news is that several new series by Ali Brandon/Diane A. S. Stuckart may be coming out soon, possibly under the name Anna Gerard. For more information on, check out the news articles I posted in August and September!