Who wouldn't love to live in the quaint and charming Alabama town of Ashton Corners? Neighbours look after each other, kids drink soda and say ma'am, there's no Mafia, and hard-working reading specialist Lizzie Turner helps reluctant teens. What's missing other than a book club?
Widow friend Molly Mathews is thrilled to volunteer her own plush Victorian mansion to the first meeting of the Mystery Readers and Cheese Straw Society. The table is set with delectables sweet and savoury as the friends settle in. Romance may be on the menu with the handsome new male lawyer in town, a surprise guest of one of the members. Scarcely have they commenced arguing companionably about what book to choose first than a strange man is standing in the hall. Car trouble, so he says, and makes a phone call. Before the evening ends, he's found shot outside in his vehicles, far down the long driveway. And with an old gun that had been in the house for decades. How did he get it? Is this a suicide or a murder? What would Poirot do?
Once identified, the stranger may have had distant connections with the town, but any main players are now dead. Matters turn complex in the ongoing investigation when it's discerned that some book club members may have left the room for a few minutes each in the course of the long meeting. But they're all such upright citizens, and they say that they've never seen him before. The handsome but untested chief of police has unfinished dating business from high school with Lizzie, which intrigues her, but the retired chief doesn't trust the young pup to do any job right.
What was the dead man doing at the mansion? The car excuse seems to have been a total ruse. Everyone starts pitching in on the sleuthing, some traveling together to nearby towns where the dead man may have had a family. Everyone but the law seems to be turning up clues, but the new chief and his crabby second in command issue warnings for the amateurs to back off before they get hurt.
As things heat up, Lizzie is tasked with a new mystery. Who is dropping off successive parts of a manuscript in her mailbox in the middle of the night? Is it a shy student? A reclusive town citizen with a secret past? What do they want from her? A critique or just validation? Chapter One has a regional charm, as if it came from a talented if unschooled local. "There wasn't much money to be had doing anything in small town Alabama in the early 1960s. But that Mr. Jenkins Parker had a good run of cotton and was raking in his own bankrolls, so the good luck spilled right over and Pops got himself a loan." Then the storyline turns dark. And darker. In the midst of her own problems with the murder and her growing attraction to the chief, Lizzie is hooked. She wants to know what happened, but she's afraid of the consequences of unearthing ugly secrets.
Even worse, she starts getting midnight calls hinting that her respected reporter father, who died decades ago in a car accident, was working on a newspaper story that may relate to the present murder. Lizzie's always regarded her father as a hero. Connecting the dots will make him proud of her. Then again, perhaps he had been cheating on her mother in making mysterious trips.
Lizzie is a spunky new heroine with two aristocratic feline furballs, Edam and Brie. She's single and choosy enough to stay that way for now. Every dedicated teacher will identify with her quest to find ways to steer modern teens into a book which suits their needs and interests, even if the path starts with a graphic novel. "I've got an idea, Lizzie...why don't you just do, like, brain surgery or something on me. Slice me open, pull out my brain, squish all this Shakespeare stuff into it, put it back and sew me up like new," one of her charges pleads. But even with her soft spot for the young and old, such as her confused mother in a nursing home or problems like teen pregnancy, Lizzie has a backbone of steel, and will rush to the side of her friends in trouble.
Not only reading classes, but mystery reading itself is the theme of this exciting new series, and rumours have it that in another life the author "Erika Chase" ran her own mystery bookstore. "The trouble with mornings is that they come when you're not awake," according to Rex Stout. Every chapter begins with a crafty quote from Lizzie's mystery lore, and Dame Agatha or Janet Evanovich punctuate the conversation. This cozy with a clever edge sets a perfect stage for further adventures in this iconic little town with more "characters" than a Russian novel. And good news! The Ashton Corners Book Club will detect again with the included sample of the upcoming Read and Buried.