Murder Checks Out (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery)
“Gilbert has presented a good, well-paced story with strong characters and lots of clues for the reader to follow.”
In Victoria Gilbert’s new cozy, Murder Checks Out, library director Amy Muir is preparing for the Christmas holidays and Winterfest in the small town of Taylorsford when the worst possible thing that could happen, does. Murder.
Amy draws herself into the investigation as Gilbert opens the story with, “Ask a group of people a random question and most of them will either shrug or toss off an answer, factual or not. But ask a librarian the same question and they’ll research it until they can provide a definitive response.” A truism that emphasizes Amy’s role as investigator.
As cozies go, the protagonist is generally a single/divorced/widowed, or otherwise single woman who lives in a small rural town and runs a business such as a bakery, bookstore, BnB, or such. Amy is a co-director of the local library and she fits the bill except that Amy is married to Richard and has two small children, Ellie and Nicky. A different take on the heroine. She has helped the police in the past and this is also a bit of a change.
Early in the book the reader is introduced to Wendy Blackstone, a wealthy entrepreneur real estate developer who has made it a habit of taking small, comfortable, rural areas and building massive developments that ruin the neighborhood. Wendy is now working on just such a change to bucolic Taylorsford. Many residents do not welcome this change and make their opinions clear.
When Wendy is found dead at the base of a stone stairway after the festival, the initial cause of death is “accidental.” But it does not take long for that to change to murder, and from the beginning, the reader is introduced to a variety of characters, many of whom become good suspects.
Among those whom Gilbert tosses into the ring are Kurt Kendrick, art connoisseur with a history with Wendy; Ethan Payne, Amy’s brother-in-law, who is holding out on the last piece of property that Wendy needs to complete her project. And then there is Wendy’s daughter Nadia; and her son Dylan; as well as her business partner, Timothy Thompson. And Sunny Fields, co-librarian director with Amy, has a history with Wendy’s developments.
Three members of an environmental group, Environmental Advocates, who oppose the development—Jaden Perez, Candace Jensen, and Megan Campbell—catch Amy’s attention. Here Gilbert puts together a strong case against Candy when Amy considers, “But in Candy’s case, is she simply trying to divert attention away from anyone associated with Environmental Advocates? Because she, along with Jaden Perez and Megan Campbell, and maybe others, had history with Wendy Backstone too. And who knows if that history was even more volatile than it first appears?” Is Candy really a good candidate, or is she a red herring?
Gilbert provides a side story in Amy’s husband and children, and her mother-in-law Fiona. Fiona is first presented as typical: argumentative and not caring. But when she arrives for the holidays without her husband, Amy begins to see a crack in Fiona’s behavior, and soon they are involved in a joint investigation.
As the story progresses, the focus turns to Ethan who mysteriously disappears, indicating guilt to many of the town residents. Amy refuses to accept this and the investigation on her part begins to ramp up. When Ethan is really considered as the top murder suspect, Amy and Fiona dive further to prove his innocence. It is not until Ethan reappears with a story of being kidnapped that the focus must now turn to the other suspects.
Gilbert brings other characters into the fray and each provides a clue here and there for Amy to follow. Aunt Lydia is a major force of support for Amy, and Zelda Adams, a friend of Lydia’s, is the town gossip—always good for tidbits, clues, and town history.
Another aspect of the side story is that Richard is a dancer. He is producing “The Nutcracker,” employing local children, including their own, as cast members. There is no indication of a relationship between this and the murder, but it’s an interesting side trip and builds Amy’s character.
Gilbert does a good job of setting various clues to different suspects as the tension and conflict grow. She establishes strong conflict between Amy and the sheriff, Brad Tucker, who tries unsuccessfully to discourage Amy’s involvement and yet accepts her findings to get to the truth.
Gilbert has presented a good, well-paced story with strong characters and lots of clues for the reader to follow. The ending is a surprise, which is always good for a cozy. Her fans will enjoy this entry in her series.