***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.