Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mama Stalks the Past by Nora DeLoach

It's a real shame that this book is out of print. I loved it. I thought I was getting the first book in a series, although partway through I decided it had to be a sequel just because so many mentions of earlier crimes were dropped into the narrative. I checked, and sure enough, Mama Stalks the Past is actually the fifth book in this series. I found a list of all of them in order for those who'd like to chase them all down.

Simone Covington is visiting her mother, Grace--more commonly known as Candi--when a man named Nat Mixon bursts in and accuses Candi of robbing him of his inheritance. Nat's mother, an ill-tempered neighbor of Candi's, has recently died. Candi had almost no contact with the woman (despite friendly offers of food and friendship) and is stunned to discover she willed 250 acres of prime real estate to her. Candi doesn't want the land, especially since someone seems to be murdering the woman's other heirs--and rumors in town point to Candi as being the murderer.

This is a true cozy mystery. I got a strong Miss Marple vibe from the book. Candi is a pleasant, polite, and intelligent woman who's keenly aware of what goes on in her small town. She knows how to play the village gossips for information (even when they're badmouthing her behind her back) and she knows how to approach people to get them to open up to her. Like Miss Marple, she solves her mysteries by talking to people and then thinking carefully about what she's been told (and what information people have withheld). The pace is slower than a lot of mysteries without being a bit boring, which was a nice change.

I liked Simone, who's more impulsive and less patient than her mother. I wish Simone had had a more active role in the mystery, though. I knew I'd like Simone at the very beginning: after she threatens Nat Mixon with a can of roach spray, she inspects her hand to make sure none of the spray got on it, then washes her hands anyway. I totally would have done the same thing. That's a good example of the attention to character and detail DeLoach has throughout the book.

I enjoyed the mystery a lot; in fact, I was convinced I knew who the murderer was, and was delighted to find that I was completely wrong. I don't know if the theme of strong family ties is unique to this particular book or an ongoing one (I suspect ongoing), but it worked well with both the mystery and the characters.

The author died in 2001, which is really sad.

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