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by Clea Simon
Polis Books, December 2018
320 pages
ISBN: 1947993321

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Becca's coven is meeting at her house, again. Not because it's her turn but because she has actually succeeded in doing something magical: she has summoned a pillow. A new gold velvet pillow, very soft, with tassels. What Becca doesn't realize, and neither does anyone else, is that Becca had nothing to do with the appearance of the pillows. Clara tells the reader that it was all Harriet's fault. Clara is a plump calico cat. Harriet is a Creamsicle-colored longhair. Laurel obviously has some Siamese in her background. They all belong, as humans would say, to Becca. They have all the magical powers in the household and they are NOT supposed to let the humans know this. Harriet came awfully close to crossing the line. Clara, from whose point of view the reader learns all of this and more, is the youngest and therefore (as we humans all know) the least important in the eyes of her sisters. Becca, however, tends to confide the most in Clara.

As in any group, there are tensions and undercurrents swirling in the coven. Trent, the lone male and warlock, is the object of more than one woman's affections. Is he interested in Becca? If so, does this attraction stem from her magical abilities, her newly single status, or something else altogether. When Becca goes to visit Suzanne (at Suzanne's request), she is surprised to find Suzanne's apartment door is open. She is even more surprised to find Suzanne's dead body. The surprises continue to arrive: Suzanne was dating Becca's ex. Jeff calls Becca just as she arrives at Suzanne's. Was this planned? Is Jeff a murderer or just a lousy boyfriend? Some other members of the coven try to help Becca find a job. More surprises in store: one interview is with the ex-husband of a coven member. Larissa failed to mention that minor detail. Or that Nathan, a man interested in Becca (they met outside Suzanne's house at an inopportune moment) is connected somehow. Is he competition for the job Becca wants? And there are secrets - there always are. Which ones are connected to Suzanne? Which ones are just run-of-the-mill secrets and not ties to Suzanne's death? How can Becca tell? And how much should she be telling Detective Abrams? He was cute, after all.

This is not Clea Simon's first book, nor her first series. She is a capable writer, with skill in both plotting and pacing. The fact that this story involved witchcraft, both present day and historical, makes Cambridge almost the perfect setting. While not everyone is a fan of the domesticated animal as narrator, Simon does it as well as several other writers out there. There is never any problem telling which feline is speaking, which is probably not nearly as easy as Simon makes it seem. There are enough subplots left unresolved that Simon, and her felines, can easily amuse readers for several more books.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, December 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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