Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert. Cozy Mystery Novel, July 2018.
The second novel in yet another cozy mystery series, this one revolves around library director Amy Webber. She also has a background in art history, which comes in handy here, even as she narrates the tale in a capable yet vulnerable and winning manner.
Adhering to the time-honored cozy pattern, Taylorsford is a small Virginia town with often quirky but usually harmless inhabitants. It’s the modern day, yet the place retains attitudes and habits from a gentler, bygone era. The locals generally feel safe.
So why do dead bodies show up so often of late?
Because it’s the site of a cozy series, of course!
Last summer, a distant relation of Amy’s turned serial killer was the cause. That was in the first book in the series.
Now it is Autumn. Amy is busy throwing together a yard sale/fundraiser for the library to run alongside the town’s annual Heritage Days festival. She, her Aunt, her dancer/choreographer boyfriend Richard and their friends have finally settled back into normal life when another murder is discovered.
Amy, Richard and her best friend, assistant librarian Sunny Fields, are looking to collect paintings the area’s most noted artist promised to donate for the sale. She and Richard enter the barn Rachel LeBlanc and her husband turned into an art studio. There they discover Ms. LeBlanc’s body, fatally stabbed with her own palate knife.
Sunny finds only the LeBlancs’ drug-addled daughter Lila in the nearby farmhouse, but catches sight of Lila’s sometime boyfriend and small-time drug dealer Caden running into the surrounding woods. Are the troubled youngsters involved?
And what about Reese, Rachel’s husband and a much less successful artist? He’s nowhere to be found. That’s odd, no doubt.
So it’s time to call in Sunny’s love interest, Chief Deputy Sheriff Brad Tucker, for another homicide investigation. Was LeBlanc killed for money or was it an act of passion? And what, if any, was the role in it of the cache of unidentified artwork found hidden in the building’s secret room?
The investigation will, of course, involve and threaten our heroine, as well as Richard, Sunny, Amy’s Aunt Lydia and even the memory of Lydia’s long-dead husband, himself a talented yet less-successful artist. Add an obnoxious rich widow, her too-smooth adult son, shady art dealer Kurt Kendrick, an outside art expert who charms the lonely Lydia and an international gang of cutthroats specializing in stealing, smuggling and producing forgeries of fine artwork, and you’ve got the makings of a genuinely involving crime story.
On the other hand, I had a good idea who the killer was from the first moment that individual made an appearance. The plot details were still to be uncovered, and (as with most good cozies) the fun was mostly in how the characters’ lives developed, both in their private relationships and in course of the amateur sleuthing. Getting some insights into the world of collectible art was a bonus.
A second murder will turn up at a key moment. And later, during the novel’s climactic confrontation, Amy and those dearest to her will face-off against a pistol-waving, desperate killer.
Afterward, a soothing art-focused party both allows Amy and Richard to confirm their abiding love (as if any confirmation was needed) and supplies a mild twist that ties up several minor loose ends. One is left to assume that two new characters in the series, one roguish yet charming and the other a true stand-up guy, will again play major roles in future installments of Ms. Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library Mysteries.
To sum up: This one is a solidly enjoyable, if not hugely surprising cozy-type mystery.