Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review of "Arsenic and Old Books" by Miranda James

Charlie Harris, a middle-age southern gentleman, is the archivist at the Athena College library in the town of Athena, Mississippi. Charlie strolls to work every day with his pet Diesel - a Maine Coon cat. Though Diesel doesn't talk/solve mysteries/attack bad guys like cats in some mystery books he does enjoy being petted and pampered and getting treats. As the story opens the mayor of Athena, Lucinda Beckwith Long, has found some Civil War era diaries written by her husband's ancestor and donated them to the library archives.

Almost immediately, before Charlie can prepare the diaries for public viewing, he is besieged by two women who insist on getting access to the journals. One claims to be a graduate student and the other is a history professor. Two men running for state senator are also interested in the diaries: Beck Long (the mayor's son) - who grew up entitled and privileged, and Jasper Singletary - who grew up in poor economic circumstances. Long apparently thinks his ancestor's laudatory past will help him win votes while Singletary claims the diaries will show their author was a murderer. (Though who would admit to this in a diary is beyond me.)

Pretty soon the diaries are stolen, a murder occurs, and Mayor Long happens to discover an additional diary that could affect the state senator election. Charlie Harris makes some important discoveries about the diaries in between eating chicken-and-dumpling lunches, chatting with his girlfriend, talking to his son, strolling to work and back, petting his cat Diesel, coordinating with Chief of Police Kanesha Berry, and so on. As it turns out there are some explosive revelations in the diaries, but to say more would give away spoilers.

In any case, the diary entries were quite interesting. They revealed that some southerners embarked upon the Civil War rather cheerfully, thinking it would be over in a matter of months. Instead they came to suffer privation and hardship.

The book meanders along to a satisfactory conclusion. I thought some of the goings-on in the story seemed over the top and not credible. However, modern politics (as seen on TV) demonstrates that some people would do almost anything to get elected, so who knows.

I'd recommend the book to fans of cozy mysteries (and cats).

Rating: 3 stars

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