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by Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2018
304 pages
ISBN: 0451491092

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Charlie Harris (and his trusted sidekick Diesel) are surprised one morning to find a box on their front stoop, a box containing five kittens and a note asking Charlie to take care of the kittens. Well, any reader of this series knows that Charlie is the perfect person to leave kittens with, particularly at Christmas. Even Diesel, his Maine Coon cat, is ready to do his part. Charlie would like to know who his benefactor (if that's the right name for a kitten abandoner) is. That's the first mystery on his plate. The second one takes a bit longer to present itself. Charlie's new neighbor, Geraldine Albritton, is not endearing herself to her neighbors. She's nosy, flirtatious, pushy, and generally a bit over the top. She's invited just about everyone who is anyone in Athena to a party, a Neighborhood Meet-n-greet for Christmas. Charlie doesn't really want to go, and doesn't know how to avoid going. Always a tough call for a southern gentleman.

Charlie does go to the party, which has an unfortunate ending: Geraldine is poisoned. As one might expect, there are lots of questions. First and foremost, who WAS Geraldine Albritton? She is not apparently related to the enormous Albritton clan, of which there are many branches. What is her connection to Ronni Halliburton? Even following the money, and there's a lot of it, doesn't answer all the questions. Someone, very obviously, doesn't want those questions asked, much less answered.

Charlie is also trying to pull his Christmas celebration together for his family, and there are problems with that. The new grand-baby is colicky and that is taking a definite toll on both the parents. Does Charlie intervene? How can he help without overstepping the boundaries that he knows exist, just not exactly where they exist. He wants to help; he knows his kids have to work this out for themselves. Always a tough parenting call, no matter how old the kids are. This theme is played out again as Charlie figures out who left him the kittens.

This is James' tenth Charlie Harris mystery. If SIX CATS maintains the quality one assumes has been present up until now, James will be writing for a good long time. Charlie is a marvelous character, with minor flaws and major charm. Diesel - well, anyone who doesn't like a Maine Coon shouldn't be reading cozy mysteries to begin with. Just saying . . . I'm not totally sure that James plays completely fair with the reader; I've been wrong before and I didn't feel totally gob-smacked by the ending(s). The recurring characters are fleshed out. I think this could have been set in almost any small town; the Southern charm aspect may not transplant quite as well. All in all, any fan of a good cozy would probably enjoy finding this under their Christmas tree.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, October 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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