I enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining cosy whodunit series, featuring Kellan, see my reviews of Academic Curveball and Broken Heart Attack.
BLURB: At a masquerade ball to raise money for renovations to Memorial Library, Kellan finds a dead body dressed in a Dr. Evil costume. Did one of Maggie’s sisters kill the annoying guest who’d been staying at the Roarke and Daughters Inn, or does the victim have a closer connection to someone else at Braxton College? As Kellan helps school president Ursula bury a secret from her past and discover the identity of her stalker, he unexpectedly encounters a missing member of his family. Everything seems to trace back to the Stoddards: a new family who recently moved in. Between the murder, a special flower exhibit and strange postcards arriving each week, Kellan can’t decide which mystery in his life should take priority. But unfortunately, the biggest one of all has yet to be exposed – and when it is, Kellan won’t know what hit him.
REVIEW: Kellan is an engaging, likeable protagonist with a lot on his plate. On top of his academic duties at Braxton University, he is also trying to bring up his small daughter with the help of his beloved grandmother, Nana D. But his habit of tripping over dead bodies also means he gets caught up into trying to sort out who was responsible for these untimely deaths. A cosy murder mystery needs a few vital ingredients to be a truly enjoyable, engrossing read – there needs to be a sympathetic protagonist we enjoy following. Kellan certainly ticks that box.
We also need a steady supply of suitably plausible suspects with a sufficiently strong reason to off our murder victim. And this is why cosy murder mysteries are often set within small communities, where there are a pool of people at hand. Cudney is very good at this aspect – far too often the mystery component is rather neglected. But every single one of his books has been exceptionally well plotted.
The other tricky part of this demanding genre is ensuring that despite the fact we are dealing with a murder, the tone doesn’t get too dark or gritty – yet, neither can the mood be unduly flippant or descend into outright comedy. After all, there has been a murder. This balance is far harder to negotiate than Cudney makes it look – largely thanks to his knack of writing a varied cast of characters who are largely likeable, yet with edges that mean they aren’t too cute or unrealistic. And once again, the murder mystery part of this story is nailed, with plenty of twists and turns.
I also love the ongoing progression of the story, which also puts this series a cut above many others. Kellan’s relationships with some of the key characters in this community continues to evolve and develop, which gives readers of the series an extra reward that isn’t there for those who crash into it. That said, if anyone wanted to, there is no reason why this one wouldn’t work perfectly well as a standalone, or a prospective entry point. Although there is an ongoing major issue that Kellan is wrestling with regarding his personal life. And I was delighted to see that it is creating a fair amount of havoc – and leaves this story on a doozy of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the fourth book, Mistaken Identity Crisis is available, so I will soon be diving back into this engaging world. Highly recommended for fans of well-written, cosy mystery murders.