In honour of all the Bookshops that can open today in England – especially independent shops – I thought I would remind everyone not to take them for granted…
A Body in the Bookshop by Helen Cox
Kitt Hartley is a librarian and loves books. She also loves bookshops, specifically those in her home city of York. So when the theft of some very valuable first editions from Bootham Bar Books comes to light, she is keen to find out what happened. To be fair she is more worried about DS Charlotte Banks, who has been accused of assaulting a suspect in the burglary at the bookshop. Kitt’s friend, Evie Bowes, is also worried about Charlotte or Charley, not least because she was so supportive when Evie found herself not only in trouble but also in danger a few months before. So when Kitt learns more about the case from her new boyfriend, DI Malcolm Halloran, she and Evie become thoroughly involved – especially when that help involves visiting bookshops!
This is an enjoyable and interesting mystery which involves lively and realistic dialogue and some familiar settings for those involved in buying books, though without this element of risk. The connection with Halloran is enough to give some police procedural background, but the investigative methods that Kitt and Evie use are not in any official guidance. The setting, of a wintery York, is described with the eye of a local writer who knows just how many bookshops there are to be investigated. Evie’s situation, of having obvious reminders of her recent traumatic experiences is dealt with sensitively, as well as her own discoveries throughout the novel. Although this is the second “Kitt Hartley Yorkshire Mystery” I found it easy to enjoy this book as a standalone, as there is enough background to indicate the relationships that are central to the story.
The lively dialogue between the women is first demonstrated when Evie visits Kitt on a cold evening in December. While Halloran’s interruption is welcomed, the news he brings of Charley is a shock. Evie immediately resolves to go and find the woman who had helped her, and is shocked at the change in her usually confident friend. When she decides to investigate further, things get complicated. Kitt’s assistant at the library, Grace, gets involved in the investigation, and the drama increases when an unexpected death occurs. When the three women try to track down just what has happened, it involves several episodes of unusual detection, including a tour of all the bookshops in the city, which culminates in some potentially useful gossip as well as some sore feet for Evie from her trademark vintage shoes. A bus trip and a card reading also supply some details as a complex mystery emerges in which books and some bloodshed play their part.
This is a easy to read contemporary mystery which is well written and plotted. It gives a satisfactory amount of time to the realistic characters who feature in a case with a suitable number of red herrings and twists to maintain interest throughout. The setting is well realized, as a wintery York is the background to revelations of several kinds. I really enjoyed the depiction of Evie, with her vintage obsession and impulsive actions. This is a well handled contemporary murder mystery with some multi-layered characters and not too much gore in a realistic setting. I will certainly be keen to read other books in this series – murder mysteries with the human element.