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by Miranda James
Berkeley Prime Crime, August 2021
289 pages
ISBN: 0593199464

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Charlie Harris is quite surprised to find out that his grandfather, Robert Charles Harris, not only did not sell the family farm back in the day but that he left it to Charlie. The family had always operated under the assumption that Martin Horace Hale had bought the place when Charlie’s dad decided not to go into farming almost a half-century ago; Martin had farmed it for a long time, and then leased some of the land to neighbors to farm. Martin’s grandson was not pleased to find out that his expected inheritance did not exist the way he thought it did. Nobody is thrilled when Diesel the cat, while exploring the attic, discovers a skull. There are bones to go with the skull, almost enough for a full skeleton. The woman is missing both hands and feet. No identification is found.

Things get more complicated, at least in the present, when Martin Hale III is found dead under a tree after a bad storm. Wasn’t the tree that killed him – gunshots did that. Who wanted him dead? The real estate developer who has already talked to Charlie? His sister, in from California, who didn’t trust him as far as she could throw him? One or the other of the neighbors who wanted to buy the land they had been leasing from his grandfather?

Charlie is much more interested in the woman in the attic (shades of Nancy Drew). Was she a relative? Was she married to a neighbor with a reputation for violence? His wife disappeared. Was she Martin Hale’s wife, who left because of his drinking and bad treatment of her? And another local woman disappeared around the same time. Was the woman in the attic one of those three, or somebody else altogether? Charlie starts asking questions of the people in town who might know details about life fifty years ago. His housekeeper Azalea Berry is the mother of the sheriff. His friend Melba Gilley knows everyone in town and their history besides. He also connects with Esther Carraway, who tells him some of his family history, and refers him to the local historical society, where he learns a lot more. The more he learns, the more he becomes convinced that, while there may be a connection between Marty Hale III’s death and the farm, the connection between the woman in the attic and the farm is probably not connected to Marty’s death.

This is number fourteen in the Cat in the Stacks series. The main characters are, for the most part, set in stone; James isn’t afraid for them to grow a little at a time, and there are no stunning surprises either. Charlie does tend to rely on first impressions when meeting new people; those first impressions tend to ring true in the long run. There are sub-plots, of course. Some are resolved and some not. This is a good thing for an author looking to keep a series going. Small town Texas is a cliché, one that works well for James and his characters. Athena is a little more liberal than one might expect; that’s a good thing. If Diesel doesn’t make one want to run out and buy a Maine Coon cat (from a reputable breeder!), then one is definitely NOT a cat person.

§ P.J Coldren: 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 live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, September 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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