Scott D. Parker
You would think winning the lottery would solve all your problems, but if you've heard real-life stories of lottery winners ruining their lives, then you know money doesn't solve everything. Unless, that is, you have a purpose. Or a mystery to solve.
Kari Stuart, twenty-nine years old, is the lottery winner in question in Furbidden Fatality, the first in a new series by Deborah Blake, and it is the March 2021 selection in Murder by the Book's cozy mystery subscription service. What you don't see on page one is Kari extravagantly spending her money or doing the other things folks flush with new cash do. Instead, she is driving a small black kitten she found to the local animal shelter. What she finds, however, is a run-down facility with no more room to take in the cute kitten. Turned away and wondering what to do with the cat, Kari impusively buys the shelter, giving her aimless life new focus.
As stories of this type do, we now get to meet all the supporting cast of Lakeview, the town in which she grew up. Suz, her best friend, who often serves as the Greek chorus, throwing reality at Kari at various times in the book, especially at the beginning when she first learns of Kari's purchase of Serenity Sanctuary. Sara Hanover, volunteer at the shelter, is a former English teacher who still knows everyone in town which comes in handy as the book goes on. You’ve got Bryn, a somewhat sulky twentysomething and Daisy, the older former owner.
Into this mix comes Bill Myers, the local dog warden, and the bane of the shelter’s existence. The latest Myers accusation is against a pit bull, Buster, who is accused of biting someone else. Myers is chomping at the bit to confiscate Buster and put him down. Well, good news: he doesn’t do that, mainly because he’s murdered. On the grounds of Serenity Sanctuary.
Guess who’s the number one suspect? You’re right. Kari, who has moved in and took up residence on the property. All the clues point to her. She had the motive (save Buster), the opportunity (her land), and the weapon (Myers was choked with a snare pole). The cops barely look elsewhere, despite additional clues and information along the way, so it’s up to Kari to clear her name (and those of her friends who get pulled into the investigation) while uncovering the real killer.
Blake moves the story along pretty quickly, adding in new wrinkles to the mystery and throwing a false leads along the way. Kari and her friends have a lot of pluck as they basically become detectives despite them not knowing how to really do it. There are a couple of jokes from the police about the reality of detective work versus what is seen on TV. All in all, I didn’t figure out the killer until the end, always the mark of a good book.
I’m early in my enrollment in what I call Cozy College, where I read cozy mysteries, a genre all but brand-new to me. Of the half dozen I’ve read this year (Bait and Witch, Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop, and four Andy Carpenter novels by David Rosenfelt), Forbidden Fatality is the first one written in third person. It doesn’t diminish the book at all, but I kind of have gotten used to a lead character in a cozy being the narrator. Maybe that isn’t the norm, but it was one of the stereotypical things I thought cozies were like—and those earlier books confirmed.
Interestingly, another trope I associate with cozies that involve pets is that the pets themselves help solve the crimes. The Andy Carpenter series has pets (and, ironically, a dog shelter) but they don’t help out. In this novel, Queenie (the black kitten that started the whole thing) actually does. Makes for quite a charming little addition to a fun book.