Give me a cozy mystery. Set it in the South. Make the main character a librarian who owns a cat. If I could have given Miranda James the elements for a plot, all of my favorite features would have been used in the first Cat in the Stacks mystery, Murder Past Due. And, cat lovers are going to love Diesel, the cat in this book.
Charlie Harris' wife and favorite aunt died within a few weeks of each other three years earlier. When he inherited his aunt's house, and her housekeeper, Azalea Berry, he returned to his hometown, Athena, Mississippi. Now, he divides his time between a cataloging job at the university library, and a volunteer position at the public library. And, he takes in boarders, college students. This year's is a freshman, Justin Wardlaw, taken in as a favor to a friend, Justin's mother, Julia.
It's another former classmate, Godfrey Priest, who stirs up the town. The bestselling author has returned home. He'll speak at the university, wants to give his papers to the library, but also has other reasons to be there. Charlie never liked Godfrey, but he didn't dislike him as much as so many other people do. So, when Godfrey ends up dead, Charlie isn't a suspect, even though Azalea's daughter, Deputy Kanesha Berry, thinks he interferes too much. She just doesn't know he's prying because her mother asked him to talk to people who might not talk to Kanesha. And, he has reasons to pry. His boarder is at the top of the suspect list.
Charlie also has an easy way to talk to people. He walks his Maine coon cat, Diesel. And, Diesel is welcome everywhere, from the library to the bookstore and the bakery. Diesel gives Charlie a way to start a conversation. It seems there are a number of people who actually wanted Godfrey Priest dead. But, whose emotions led to murder?
I feel sorry for Charlie Harris. Despite his friendships, he's a lonely man. His amateur sleuthing gives him the opportunity to talk to people. And, I felt even sorrier for this likable man at the end of the book, when the killer was revealed.
As much as I liked librarian Charlie Harris, though, the star of this book is Diesel. And, he's no more than a cat. He's not a talking cat, or a mystery-solving cat. He's a big, lovable cat, with a purr as loud as a motor, hence the name. Read Murder Past Due for the mystery, and an enjoyable amateur sleuth. And, it's fun to recognize Charlie's favorite mystery authors. But, as much as anything, you'll find yourself wishing for the next book to catch up with Diesel.
Murder Past Due by Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425236031 (paperback), 304p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me the book, in hopes I would review it.