Probably most famous for his helpful book, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Mr. Marshall has also created a very enjoyable series featuring Jane Stuart and her cat, Winky. These characters were first introduced in Missing Marlene, which was followed by Hanging Hannah. As this is the third in the series with a forth novel, Icing Ivy due in November, it isn't possible to review this novel without giving away some background detail. In you have not read the series, I would encourage you to skip this review and instead read the books in order, as you won't be disappointed.
As this novel opens, Jane Stuart is exhausted. Her literary agency is still struggling but seems to have turned the corner financially speaking. Because of the events in the two previous novels as well as the simple strain of being a widow with a small child as well as running a business she needs a vacation. The problem is that Thanksgiving is just a few days away and she plans to be gone by then and still has not decided what sun drenched island she is going to. Not only is the cold weather of winter blowing into New Jersey, but so too is cousin by marriage, Stephanie.
Stephanie was related to Kenneth, (Jane's deceased husband) so she feels a tremendous obligation when Stephanie calls her. Stephanie is moving to the same village as Jane Stuart, Shady Hills. She is moving from Boston after she lost her job there to join a publishing company that also happens to be moving to Shady Hills at the same time. Carson and Hart happens to be run by a quite famous now college roommate of Stephanie's who has helped her out by hiring her. But she needs a place to stay temporarily while she looks for a place of her own and with much reluctance; Jane finally agrees that she can move in with her.
Stephanie arrives and soon has the house in an uproar. Apparently racist, she dislikes Jane's assistant, Daniel as well as Jane's nanny, Florence. While she seems to be able to tolerate, Nick, Jane's ten year old son, she certainly does not like Winky the cat, her accommodations or just about anything else in Jane's world. But, reminding herself frequently that Kenneth would have wanted her to help her, Jane tries to tolerate Stephanie's problems and appalling attitude. After all, it won't be long before she has her place of her own and Jane is going to go on vacation, if she can just pick the spot.
But her plans keep getting derailed as strange things begin to happen in her small little town with Stephanie's arrival. Break-ins, a rather rare event in the past seem to surge in numbers and then people start dying. At the same time, Stephanie seems to be having more and more problems at work and desperately begs Jane to go undercover at the publishing company and snoop to see if things are really running right. Jane eventually agrees and discovers that strange things are indeed going on with one heck of a twist.
This series is very enjoyable. Clearly Mr. Marshall is drawing on his own experience as head of his own literary agency as well as his own advice to writers. He cleverly weaves some of that advice again in each one of his novels without coming across as heavy-handed or preaching. At the same time, each novel reveals a little more about the main characters while having plenty of action with numerous twists and false clues. Clearly, no major character is totally safe in this series, which also adds to the enjoyment factor.
This is a series that should be definitely started with the first book, Missing Marlene. This series is well worth the read, for writers and mystery fans, alike.