While waiting for Lemony Snicket's newest, I picked this up to read after coming upon it accidentally - I like to try "first in series" mysteries if I can, so that if I like them I can keep up from the beginning.
Josie Toadfern lives in maybe the most rural Ohio town I've ever read about, Paradise. The book opens with several of Paradise's most prominent citizens scared stiff that Paradise has been left off the newest edition of the Ohio state map! The city's already low tourist-based cash crop is in peril, but how to get the city (literally) back on the map? Easy, says Josie, owner of Toadfern's Laundromat ("always a leap ahead of dirt!") and the best stain-removal expert in the midwest -- she'll just write to Tyra Grimes, who is a super-famous homemaking/decorating expert (a la Martha Stewart) with her own show, and tell Tyra she (Josie) should be on "The Tyra Grimes Home Show" to share her stain-fighting expertise with the world.
This idea comes with mostly-enthusiastic backing from other Paradisites -- with one of the most adamant exceptions being the local funeral parlor owner, Lewis Rothchild, who warns Josie that, if she gets Tyra to come to Paradise, "blood will flow." Josie receives a few other nay-sayers' advice, but writes the letter anyway ...
Sure enough, Tyra shows up in Paradise . . . and within 48 hours Josie stumbles upon a couple of bodies lying in a mushroom patch -- one unconscious, the other with a bullet hole in the chest.
This first novel started off slow for me, but actually turned into a really decent mystery. The solution is more complicated than at first you would assume, and for such a small town there are plenty of suspects around to make you try and figure out whodunnit. Josie turns into a very likeable heroine, and I will read more in the series . . . though there are a couple of problems.
One, Short is a good writer, the book got better and better as it went along, but all the foreshadowing she does got a little on my nerves (the "If I had known then what I know now"-type of letting the reader know something big is going to happen gets old fast); also, am a bit concerned with how this small town full of eccentrics might not grow stale in future installments; I mean, how many murders can this little place go through, if the town is so small there's only one laundromat, one funeral parlor, etc?
But those are nit-picky criticisms, in a way. Short, a stain expert herself, shares some of those insights in the book, and with a likeable cast of characters, vivid writing, and the (toward the end, anyway) cliffhanger chapter endings, I do really look forward to Josie's next adventure...