With as many cozy mysteries as I’ve read, I sometimes feel that there are no more surprises. Poison in the tea? Read it. A man murdering his brother over a dirty land deal? Read it. The main character foolishly cornering the villain in an isolated place during the penultimate chapter? Yeah, definitely read it.
So when an author offers up something unique within the first chapter? I know I’m settling in for a special book.
Laura Gail Black surprised me. A lot.
While For Whom the Book Tolls has all the hallmarks of a traditional cozy, it feels completely fresh. Jenna Quinn, leaving behind some pretty serious problems, arrives in Hokes Folly, North Carolina with the intention of staying with her uncle while she sorts out her life. Black expertly lays the ground for Jenna’s personal problems, and they feel real. She’s obviously experienced some trauma—even before a murder occurs—and it makes her an incredibly sympathetic character. From the first pages, I cared about her, and that’s a testament to Black’s ability to conjure up believable characters.
Unfortunately, this is a cozy, and that means danger lurks around every corner. After her first night in her new residence, she finds her uncle dead at the bottom of a staircase. Making matters worse, her inheritance, including her uncle’s bookshop and large insurance policy payout, put her as the main suspect in his death. Thankfully, Jenna isn’t the type of sleuth to run straight into mindless investigating and unnecessary chances. No, she wants to clear her name, but her generally balanced temperament keeps her from more dangerous risks. Even so, the mystery itself remains compelling, and Black deftly balances submersing Jenna into the case while also running her new business.
It helps that Black has populated Jenna’s surrounding with the usual cast of cozy denizens. Overly suspicious police. Neighbors with secrets. Most importantly, new friends that drop in and lighten the mood at just the right time. Yet there’s the hint of a gritty veneer over Hokes Folly. Though Black drops in plenty of laughs in this otherwise idyllic community, the danger never fully abates, making one of the few cozies I’ve read where the heroine’s safety doesn’t feel guaranteed.
Somehow, Black has managed all the traditional trademarks of the cozy, and yet things never feel cutesy. No, this is a real mystery with consequences that just happens to be an awful lot of fun. This is as perfect as a series debut gets.
Title: For Whom the Book Tolls
Series: An Antique Bookshop Mystery #1
Author: Laura Gail Black
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 11, 2020
Classification: Cozy Mystery
Black’s Website | Publisher’s Page
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.