****Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery

By Judy Penz Sheluk –This is the second in Judy Penz Sheluk’s Marketville Mystery series, set in a small town outside Toronto, and the series establishes a cozy, warm-hearted atmosphere. As in her earlier book, Skeletons in the Attic, the first-person narrator is Calamity (Callie) Barnstable.

Along for the adventure are Callie’s friends Chantelle Marchand and Arabella Carpenter, owner of a nearby antiques shop (the protagonist in Sheluk’s other series, the Glass Dolphin Mysteries).

In this book, Callie and Chantelle team up in a new business called Past & Present Investigations, in which they hope to use Callie’s research acumen and Chantelle’s genealogical knowledge to help people find missing relatives. Arabella will help if someone brings in an old object related to the missing person, and Callie’s retired librarian friend will do the archive searches.

Callie vacillates between loving the business idea and fearing they will find nothing but dead ends, but Sheluk has written nicely three-dimensional characters that are game to try. Callie also faces an ongoing personal challenge. It seems she cannot escape the hostility of her grandfather. He has never forgiven her mother for marrying Callie’s father who was, her grandfather felt, many ladder-rungs beneath her.

Before long, Arabella sends Callie a potential client. Louisa Frankow’s German grandmother, Anneliese, immigrated from England in 1952 on the ship Canberra. A mystery surrounds her grandmother’s death only a few years after that voyage. Family papers and photos and other clues to the grandmother’s past are few, but Callie locates an ephemera dealer with relevant artifacts from voyages of that era—much more glamorous than modern-day trans-Atlantic air travel, that’s for sure!

Callie and Chantelle capitalize on the growing online availability of genealogical databases, newspaper archives, and the like. You may be familiar with these possibilities, if you’ve done some family research of your own, and Sheluk makes the search for Anneliese’s past full of the thrill of discovering how the pieces fit. They learn that Anneliese was murdered, and her husband convicted of manslaughter (on very flimsy evidence, in Callie’s view). He’d been in prison only a few months when he was stabbed to death in the showers. If he was not guilty, as Callie suspects, the real murderer is responsible for two deaths.

Sheluk includes a couple of features that require a bit of a leap of faith. She relies on a long-ago coincidence, which, granted, might have been more likely in the early 1950s when Toronto’s population was a third its current-day size. And, she’s helped by a psychic who interprets objects, and while Callie remains skeptical of the validity of psychic phenomena, the psychic’s revelations help confirm her hypotheses about the crime.

The murder in this book is many years old, but it has consequences for Louisa and Callie too, which makes it significant even without splattering fresh blood all over the pages. It’s fun to watch Callie and her friends in action, and the book ends with the promise of another interesting case to come.

It’s a quick and satisfying read for those who like cozy mysteries or are fascinated by the long tail of the past.

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****A Hole in One

Golf Clubs

photo: Susanne Nilsson, creative commons license

By Judy Penz Sheluk – In this charming cozy mystery set in a small town north of Toronto, Canada, Arabella Carpenter decides to promote her Glass Dolphin antiques shop by sponsoring a hole in one contest at a local charity golf tournament. The prize: a pricy jet ski. All good fun until she hits her ball into the woods, and amongst the trees finds not her golf ball, but a dead body.

The victim, killed by a gunshot to the chest, is the estranged father of Arabella’s ex-husband, Levon Larroquette. The two men were so estranged that Arabella never met her ex-father-in-law. But she has seen him. He and Levon were arguing in the park just a few days before the tournament. Arabella still has feelings for Levon, and precisely how strong those feelings are is revealed whenever he encourages her to join him in drinking a little too much cognac.

Levon might have flaws as a husband, but Arabella is convinced he’s no killer. Worried that her information has made him appear more guilty, she’s determined to clear Levon’s name by investigating the murder herself, with the help of her business partner Emily, a former investigative reporter.

This is the second in the Glass Dolphin mystery series, in which Arabella and Emily boldly go where, maybe, they shouldn’t, as some of the information they turn up seems to implicate Levon even further. Their inquiries give author Sheluk the opportunity to introduce a sizeable cast of interesting, often amusing characters, with their tidbits of information and propensity for creating confusion: an Elvis impersonator, potential romantic interests for both Arabella and Emily, a vengeful local newspaper editor and reckless blogger, and an antique dealer going out of business who has sad secrets of her own.

Sheluk is an antiques expert herself and currently editor of the New England Antiques Journal. Writing with a light touch, she has a knack for inserting just the right amount of intriguing details about antique items, the antiques market, or running a small business. That information gives the story a nice grounding in reality, even as the plot twists and turns.

A Hole in One is thick with dialog, with the banter between the two women full of good humor. You may not doubt that they will succeed, almost despite themselves, but the fun is in seeing how they go about it as their theories—and the bodies—pile up.

 

***Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery

Crystal Ball

photo: Jeffrey, creative commons license

By Judy Penz Sheluk – Thirty years ago, Abigail Barnstable disappeared, leaving behind her young husband Jimmy and six-year-old daughter Callie. Raised by her doting father, Callie reaches her mid-thirties oblivious to a mountain of family secrets until Jimmy’s death in an industrial accident starts her on a path of discovery. Callie narrates this present-day cozy mystery by Canadian author Sheluk, set in the fictional town of Marketville, an hour north of Toronto.

The first surprise is in her father’s will. Not only does Callie inherit a house in Marketville, he leaves her $100,000 to fix it up. The catch? She has to quit her dead-end job in a bank call center fraud unit and move into the house for a year. Renovation will be a major undertaking, but her father also left her a connection with the building contractor living next door—a handsome single man named Royce, eager to help Callie develop her fix-up plans.

Oh, and while she’s living there, Jimmy wants her to try to find out what happened to her mother. It seems the police at the time suspected foul play—and Jimmy—but nothing was ever proved. The bequest may be his way of asking her to clear his name. Once Callie takes up residence she encounters a series of intriguing puzzles and clues. I enjoyed muddling along with her as she tried to figure out what they mean and who left them. Though occasionally, Sheluk’s dialog is a little stiff, she moves the plot along briskly, keeping Callie’s ingenuity on high alert.

Callie reaches out for help from a number of colorful characters, including two who claim psychic abilities. (One of them—Callie’s long-time friend and operator of the Glass Dolphin antique shop, Arabella Carpenter—features in Sheluk’s previous mystery, Hanged Man’s Noose, also published this year.) Callie’s never quite sure how much she can trust some of her new confidants, and people keep telling her to “be careful.” While you may never believe Callie is in any physical danger, the risk to her emotional health from mucking around in thirty years’ worth of carefully kept family secrets is significant.

The romantic risk is also real, when Royce’s family turns out to have some pretty big skeletons in its closets too. You’re left to speculate how their budding relationship may play out, because at the end of the book, all possibilities are open. If you like a tidy ending with all questions wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow, this isn’t that. Yet, Sheluk has described her principal characters so well, you may feel, as I did, that you can see into this particular crystal ball.

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.