Rosemary & Larry Mild,
Death Goes Postal
(Magic Island Literary Works, 2013)

This first book in a new mystery series has a literary premise.

On April 16, 2004, Professor Abner Fraume is strangled to death by Professor Emil Kravitz in Bath, England. Why? Because Fraume owns a set of rare 15th-century typesetting artifacts that Kravitz desperately wants. Unfortunately for the murderer, the items are no longer in Fraume's house. The researcher had anticipated his rival's intentions and had mailed the package elsewhere. He also sent three separate letters to his sister Edythe containing cryptic clues revealing the package's location. At the scene of the crime, Kravitz sees one of the letters and reads its clue. He thus knows where his search must lead next: to Edythe Bender's Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis, Md.

But alas! Before Edythe can fully deal with her brother's death and the artifact clues, she herself succumbs to cancer. Enter Dan and Rivka Sherman, acquaintances of Edythe. The bookstore owner knew her time was limited, and she convinced the Shermans to buy the business before she died. The couple is brand new to this type of enterprise. Added to the sudden stress of managing a store is the Shermans' necessary entanglement in the artifact search. They quickly learn the basic details of the murder in England and its American ties. The mystery writing critique group they host at the store has attracted a number of new members. Four of them are male. One is probably Emil Kravitz, traveling under an assumed name. But which is he? Can Dan and Rivka uncover his identity, solve the clues and find the artifacts before he does? How much should the two get involved in an investigation that really shouldn't concern them?

Readers are served a rather complex plot here. They are given the chance to know some of the backstory and witness certain developments as they happen, but not all. This enticement keeps the pages turning, especially after Kravitz kidnaps Rivka and heads toward what he believes to be the location of the artifacts. The second half of the book moves fairly quickly, as Dan and the authorities follow the trail, too. We can only hope that Rivka and the artifacts will be saved, and that Kravitz will receive the punishment he deserves.

Still, some niggling discrepancies in the narrative prevent this novel from being a flawless offering. The bookstore seems to operate more like a library, with the clerk filing the volumes by Dewey numbers instead of by genre and surname. Dan and Rivka supposedly know Edythe and the bookstore, but they are unaware of the owner's personal history and the fact that she has a cat on the premises. They have hosted the mystery writing critique group for a while, but are now restarting it with new members as if it is a brand-new program. Very little is mentioned about the writing process, which is a bit odd for folks who are bent on sharing their writing with others. When specific incidents happen, everyone in the group appears to immediately know the details, without being told. The cat is introduced, but is then seemingly forgotten on a daily basis, until an intruder locks him in another room. Dan and Rivka latch on to an intricate interpretation of a clue rather quickly, without considering other possibilities. No one notices if anyone is speaking strangely, or with a possible disguised accent, when at least one of the men must be a British investigator who is tailing the Chicago-born Kravitz.

As a reader, I found myself questioning circumstances more often than I usually do.

Overall, Death Goes Postal is a decent read with somewhat compelling main characters who may appeal to an audience of both genders. I won't keep track as new installments are added to the series, however. I may have had a different response to this book if I hadn't just read Wendy Welch's The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, & the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book right before it. Her memoir depicts the everyday dealings of the used bookstore that she and her husband started in the mountains of Virginia. If you want to know what it's really like in the independent book business, that's the volume you should pick up. Cozy mystery series based on bookstores include Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand series, Lorna Barrett's Booktown Mysteries and Allison Kingsley's Raven's Nest Bookstore Mysteries. Dan and Rivka's first adventure, though unique and challenging, is relatively average by comparison.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

8 December 2012

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