Miranda James' latest mystery, Out of Circulation, brings back two of my favorite mystery characters, Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel. Or, the people of Athena, Mississippi probably think of the pair as Diesel, and his companion, librarian Charlie Harris. It's always a treat to return to Charlie's southern world where manners, food, and family are important.
Charlie and Diesel both appreciate those finer points of life in Athena. That's why they're both uncomfortable when the doyennes of society, all members of the board of the Friends of the Athena Public Library, have a nasty argument before the annual fundraising gala. Naturally, Miss An'gel Ducote and her sister, Miss Dickce, will beat out Vera Cassity, and hold the gala once again at their home. Once Vera loses that battle, she tries another tactic and tries to force Charlie to give her access to the Ducote family archives at the local college where he is the archivist. When Charlie refuses, he finds out why Vera has so many enemies in town. She can be quite hateful, and even threatens Charlie's beloved cat, Diesel. Everyone in town seems to have a story about Vera, from one of Charlie's boarders to his housekeeper, Azalea Berry. No one has a good word to say about her. But, the Ducote sisters promise Charlie they have plans to take Vera out of circulation permanently.
Even so, it comes as a shock to Charlie when Vera ends up dead at the bottom of a staircase the night of the gala.So many people at the party have motives, but the sheriff focuses on Charlie's housekeeper, Azalea. Azalea's daughter, Kanesha, should be the investigating detective. However, with her mother as the primary suspect, she's forced to turn to Charlie for help. And, despite their dislike for Vera, the Ducote sisters put pressure on Charlie to find out who killed her in their house. With Diesel by his side, Charlie sets out to learn who might have the best reason to kill Vera Cassity.
As always, it's a pleasure to read about Diesel and his role in
Charlie's life. He doesn't solve the mystery. He doesn't talk. But, he
accompanies Charlie on his daily rounds, to work at the college and to
volunteer at the public library. He charms people, and he always has
an essential role in the story, because he is a vital part of Charlie's life. Charlie Harris wouldn't be the man he is without Diesel in his life.
Out of Circulation is a novel of family, so important in southern life. James deftly illustrates contrasting families, beginning with the one Charlie has built from family and boarders at his home. Over the course of the series, readers have seen Charlie move from a lonely man with only his cat, to a family man surrounded by loving friends who value him and Diesel. And, Diesel has been the force that brought people to Charlie, a mountain of a cat who warbles and chirps and understands people's needs. In contrast to his own family group, in this book, Charlie discovers family secrets, and one secret that led to murder.
It takes a skillful author to show even the most hated woman in town as a victim. Charlie continues to grow as an amateur sleuth who truly cares for the feelings of the people he investigates, victims and suspects. All of the elements of the Cat in the Stacks mysteries, from Charlie and Diesel, to the community politics and gossip, to the prickly relationship between Charlie, his housekeeper, and her daughter, are carefully developed. All along, cat-lovers have appreciated Diesel and these mysteries. However, anyone who appreciates a small town mystery should try Out of Circulation. James' mysteries are built on secrets and contrasts, bitterness and anger that contrast with the warmth of the life that Charlie Harris and Diesel have managed to find in Athena, Mississippi. Miranda James continues to write irresistible mysteries that delve into family and community secrets.
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
My reviews are only my opinion, and do not reflect the views of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.
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1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea: A Counting Book
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My Oct. 19, 2009 blog provides full disclosure that I only receive review copies of books, with no other compensation. All review copies are marked as such. If there any any questions, please feel free to contact me.