One of the greatest challenges an author faces when writing a cozy mystery is crafting a main character who other people—sometimes complete strangers—actually want to talk to. It’s not enough that the sleuth finds themself stumbling through a mystery. If they actually want to solve anything, people have to talk to them. There’s all sorts of clever ways of doing this, but often a character’s profession provides them the greatest access to others’s thoughts and motives. A librarian can pick up conversations while roaming the stacks, safeguarding clues as they strike up conversations with a surfeit of incoming patrons. A hair stylist can dish out glamor and gossip to customers who literally pay to sit with them. Carrying a sharp object like scissors probably also helps in finding loose lips.
Author Laura Jensen Walker knows how to make characters talk and this skill presents in the form of Hope Taylor, the new and first female pastor of Faith Chapel Episcopal Church. In this first book in a new series, many of the denizens of Apple Springs don’t know Faith, but that doesn’t stop them from quickly opening up after the shocking and rather gruesome death of local cur Stanley. While she might have been found holding the murder weapon over his lifeless body, Stanley was enough of a villain that people don’t seem to mind Faith’s probing during the case. Maybe it’s the collar.
Or maybe it’s that she’s one of the most likable protagonists to come along in a cozy since Teddie St. John in Walker’s mystery debut, Murder Most Sweet. With a penchant for all things English and an encyclopedic knowledge of old films, Hope has the remarkable ability to navigate in a world where almost everyone seems to like her—and it’s completely believable. Frankly, I’d tell her where the bodies were buried.
It helps that there’s plenty to talk about, some of it centered around Hope. Much like in all the best mysteries, there’s plenty of motive, means, and opportunity to go around a seemingly otherwise idyllic community. However, Walker challenges this notion by examining Hope’s new role in the church and the sexism she faces in an evolving institution. It’s a scenario that’s treated realistically, and further complicates the puzzle for Hope. I was often left wondering if congregants with rotten opinions about sex could be murderers or if they were just hateful people.
Yet, Hope rises above it all the best way she knows how: by talking. To congregants and to the broader community, she jokes and mingles until gradually winning over both detractors and, in turn, readers. With a clever line here and a heartfelt connection there, it’s almost surprising that the real killer doesn’t immediately come out and confess everything. Thankfully, Walker understands the need for some suspense, and she allows Hope to talk her way to both a satisfying and surprising ending.
Title: Hope, Faith, and a Corpse
Series: A Faith Chapel Mystery #1
Author: Laura Jensen Walker
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Classification: Cozy Mystery
Walker’s Website | Publisher’s Page
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.