Sunday, April 06, 2014

Pets, Cooking, and Murder: Liz Mugavero, A BISCUIT, A CASKET

Agatha Christie was right -- small-town life is a perfect stage for murder mysteries. And Liz Mugavero, in her second "Pawsitively Organic Mystery," gives us an amateur sleuth who's driven to solve crime when it affects that people she cares about. Kristan "Stan" Connor is curious, ambitious, honest, and will do just about anything for her friends and neighbors in the little Connecticut town of Frog Ledge.

Owner of a relatively new business providing homemade, organic pet foods (often helpful in clearing up allergies and intestinal ailments of the dogs and cats whose owners will try them), Stan's quickly expanding her services in the community. As A BISCUIT, A CASKET opens, Stan's just arriving with the chow for a very cute costumed pet birthday party, to be held at a local dairy farm that's also diversifying. In fact, in addition to the pet party, there's a Halloween-themed tour of the farm's clever "corn maze" to delight adventurous locals and tourists.

But Stan never has a chance to serve her doggie delights that evening, because shrieks and chaos erupt when one of the married owners of the farm is found dead in the maze, a corn-chopping tool thrust into him in skilled and murderous fashion. As the only person in the crowd with experience of what ought to happen at a crime scene (see Mugavero's first in the series, Kneading to Die), Stan takes action to keep the crowd back and dials 911. The major drawback to that action the the local police investigator already knows Stan and isn't too impressed with this recent resident of the town -- "Stan pulled her phone out of her pocket. Noticed her hand was shaking. Great. Another call to Trooper Pasquale about a dead body."

Stan's determination to be a good neighbor leads her to agree to help the newly widowed farm owner to look into why Hal Hoffman's been killed and who's done it. Good thing she has a newly hired baking assistant for her pet treats already ordered, but there's still a lot she has to handle on her own. And with the abrupt arrival of her not-very-happy mother to pay a visit, a potential boyfriend who keeps running into her during the wrong moments, and possible underworld connections to the murdered farmer, the pressure never lets up.

There are plenty of bouncing dogs and well-grooomed cats in here, as well as cows (and their manure) -- but most of all the book draws its charm from Mugavero's well-created sleuth, who's smart enough to ask the right questions, again and again, until the answers start to line up. I enjoyed all the twists, and just enough scary moments to keep the plot lively without too much gore. This is a delightful "amateur sleuth" traditional mystery, crafted by an author who understands the classic mystery apparatus, and deftly weaves it into a small town that Dame Agatha would have enjoyed very much, I'm sure! Hurrah for Stan Connor and this growing series. Sign me up for the next book!

No comments: